Chapters 1–4 

Summary: Chapter 1

Shirin, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, feels angry about changing schools so often. As she begins her first day at her third high school in two years, she keeps to herself and avoids eye contact in the hallways. When a teacher mispronounces her name and suggests she belongs in an ESL class, despite the fact that she can clearly speak perfect English, Shirin corrects him with an expletive and gets detention. Her older brother, Navid, is handsome and makes friends easily. He tries to help Shirin feel comfortable on her first day by inviting her to lunch, which she refuses. After 9/11, a year ago, two men violently attacked Shirin and choked her with her hijab. Now she hides earbuds in her headscarf and listens to music all day as a way to deal with her anger toward people and their racism. 

Summary: Chapter 2

The family frequently moves because Shirin and Navid’s immigrant parents are continually striving to live in a bigger house in a better neighborhood in an effort to provide better opportunities for the future.  Shirin describes how her parents have survived war and revolution, so they are not very sympathetic to her pain. Shirin’s interests include Matlock reruns on TV, and high fashion. One day, Navid brings home three friends named Jacobi, Carlos, and Bijan. He tells her that they are starting a breakdancing crew and invites her to join. Navid has been learning and practicing, so he will be the teacher.

Summary: Chapter 3

In biology class, Shirin is assigned a lab partner named Ocean. Their first project together is to dissect a cat. When Ocean asks if they can finish their report together after school, Shirin gives him her phone number instead. At first, Ocean thinks Shirin can’t work on the report because she is not allowed to stay out after school, an idea she knows arises from the fact that she wears a hijab. However, she tells Ocean she can’t work with him after school because the breakdancing group has its first session. While with the other breakdancers in an unoccupied room in the school, Shirin wonders if Navid, who struggles with dyslexia, included her in the group as a way to thank her for helping him through his classes. When Carlos questions if Shirin can breakdance in her hijab, Shirin becomes immediately offended, but then Carlos apologizes. Shirin is not yet a good dancer, but Navid promises to teach her the crab walk as her signature move.

Summary: Chapter 4

Shirin joins her family for dinner. Persian foods are a fixture in their home. Afterward, she receives several panicky text messages from Ocean about their project. They take their conversation to AOL Instant Messenger, and Ocean apologizes again for thinking she wasn’t allowed to stay out after school. Shirin wants to resist being attracted to Ocean and doesn’t trust his friendliness. After they awkwardly work through the topic of her hijab, they are able to finish their homework together.

Analysis: Chapters 1–4

In the first section of the book, Shirin describes the “emotional whiplash” she experiences from changing schools so often, which contrasts with her brother Navid’s experience; he’s able to make friends easily wherever he goes whereas Shirin struggles. Her feelings of loneliness and alienation are exacerbated by the fact that her parents, though they love her deeply, don’t have much sympathy for what they believe are “unremarkable struggles.” Given the physical and emotional hardships she knows her parents have faced, Shirin is unwilling and unable to discuss what she’s going through. That said, they are a close-knit family—Shirin considers their dinners together comforting and symbolic of home.

Shirin’s description of being attacked by two men brutally underscores the racism and Islamophobia she’s forced to endure. She also notes the difference between the way her brother is treated compared to the way she herself is treated. Because Shirin wears a headscarf, people are openly unkind, even hostile, to her. In their eyes, her headscarf distinguishes her as more obviously “other.”

Music plays a significant role in the story and in Shirin’s life. The music she listens to (such as Ginuwine, Nas, Radiohead, Shakira, and Lauryn Hill) helps to place the book in the early 2000s. Shirin initially uses music as a shield, both to put up a wall between her and everyone else and to make her side feel less lonely, but music is ultimately what allows her to forge a connection to other people when Navid and his friends form a breakdancing crew and invite her to join.

Human connection is something Shirin, for the most part, actively avoids. At school, she purposefully isolates herself and puts up defenses. Though staying so guarded all the time is exhausting, she feels doing so is necessary to protect herself; she never allows herself to make plans, grow too comfortable, or participate in extracurricular activities because she doesn’t want to make any sort of commitment, knowing that she will likely have to move away soon. When Shirin is assigned to be lab partners with Ocean, she has an opportunity to finally get to know someone. But instead of meeting up with him in person, she offers him her phone number, and instead of letting him get to know her, she rushes to delete her favorite songs from her online profile so that their relationship doesn’t become too personal, emphasizing the existence of the protective wall she hides behind in spite of her longing for companionship.