Chapters 5–11

Summary: Chapter 5

Navid comments on Shirin’s tight jeans and says their mom probably won’t approve. Shirin admits that her hijab makes her feel less vulnerable, as if she is wearing armor. At school, Ocean is talkative in biology class. At breakdancing practice, Jacobi helps Shirin master a move called a CC. Ocean comes by and stands at the door watching them dance, which perplexes Shirin.

Summary: Chapter 6

At school, kids continue to harass Shirin, but she starts to settle in. She holds no real interest in school, but breakdancing is now her favorite activity. When Ocean asks Shirin about a bandage on her hand, she explains that it was a sewing accident and that she makes most of her clothes. Ocean then compliments the graffiti Shirin draws on her shoes.

Summary: Chapter 7

Ocean returns Shirin’s dropped phone and stares at her a little too long. One night, Shirin powers up her computer and messages Ocean. He asks what her screen name, jujehpolo, means. Shirin explains it’s a Persian nickname: jujeh means “small” as well as “baby chicken,” and polo means “rice.” As they chat, Ocean asks Shirin about Persian food and invites himself to her house for dinner.

Summary: Chapter 8

Shirin and her breakdancing friends are part of a diverse audience at a breakdancing battle, and Shirin feels exhilarated. 

Summary: Chapter 9

In Global Perspectives class, the teacher, Mr. Jordan, asks Shirin and a jock named Travis to stand and stare at each other. When Mr. Jordan asks Travis what he sees, he stammers that he sees nothing. The exercise leaves Shirin feeling unnerved, and she leaves school, followed by Ocean, who is upset by Mr. Jordan’s experiment. 

Summary: Chapter 10

After leaving school, Shirin and Ocean go to a local IHOP. There, Shirin asks Ocean why he is so nice to her. He explains that she is beautiful, and then they order pancakes.

Summary: Chapter 11

As they walk back to school, Shirin asks how long Ocean has lived here, and he answers since he was six. She reveals that she’s attended twelve schools and then describes the year her family tried to live in Iran, first in Tehran and then in the rural north. Shirin then tells Ocean that she likes her hijab because it makes her feel in control. Ocean tells Shirin that she is “crazy intimidating” and that people stare at her for reasons other than what she thinks.

Analysis: Chapters 5–11

These chapters explore themes of identity and vulnerability. Prior to attending her first breakdancing battle, it occurs to Shirin that maybe her identity as a breakdancer could supersede her identity as the girl who wears a headscarf. Once she arrives, however, she experiences a sense of relief when she discovers the diversity of the crowd and finds that she’s just one face of many. For once, no one is looking at her, allowing her the freedom to simply be.

Shirin’s aversion to being seen highlights the many ways it has brought her pain. Whether it’s passersby making racist remarks or Travis the jock sputtering that he doesn’t see her and that she doesn’t even register to him, she’s used to being dehumanized. This contrasts sharply with the way Shirin feels when Ocean sees her in Chapter 10. She feels both confused and excited when he takes off his sunglasses and really looks at her, and for once she isn’t completely opposed to this vulnerability. Though Shirin has a propensity to put up walls, it’s clear—based on her attendance at the breakdancing battle and her evolving conversations with Ocean—that those walls are beginning to crack.

Despite Shirin’s desire to go unnoticed at school, she uses her appearance to express her individuality, a quality Ocean admires, hinting toward the idea that he doesn’t know how to express himself and that he too struggles with issues of identity. He is intrigued by Shirin’s ability to lean into her differences instead of hiding them and points out in Chapter 11 that other students are impressed and intimidated by her. Shirin is surprised; she can’t view herself as other people view her. Ocean says people find her interesting, to which Shirin replies that she doesn’t want to be interesting, a notion that brings to mind the joyful anonymity she experienced at the breakdancing battle and the fact that what Shirin wants is to simply be herself without being scrutinized one way or the other.

It takes several encounters before Shirin begins to believe that Ocean’s interest is not fake and that he doesn’t find her strange. However, Ocean’s obvious interest forces him to confront his own presumptions. When he brings up her headscarf and seeks to confirm that she’s not being forced to wear it, Shirin explains that for her personally, the headscarf is something that allows her to decide who sees her and how. It grants her both control and protection.