Chapters 16–20

Summary: Chapter 16

Students in Shirin’s group in Mr. Jordan’s Global Perspectives class ask about her departure, and she’s surprised they even noticed that she was gone. When Mr. Jordan starts class, he announces new groups. Ocean passes her a note with questions. Shirin finally accepts that even though she wants to ignore him, she cannot. As they start talking again, Ocean admits that he wants to pronounce her name correctly and later tells her that she is strong. Shirin then confides that she is afraid of many things. In biology class the next day, Ocean and Shirin accidentally collide, and the physical touch is exhilarating to both of them. At one point, Ocean asks Shirin if she is feeling the same way as he is, and although she can’t answer, he sees the response in her eyes.

Summary: Chapter 17

A flustered Shirin finds it difficult to practice. When Navid takes her home because she is feverish, she sleeps for hours and then calls Ocean. They both admit their feelings, but Shirin warns Ocean that the world is extremely racist. She agrees to hang out with him but spends the next three days in bed.

Summary: Chapter 18

Ocean tells Navid that he is worried about Shirin. Navid then urges Shirin to call Ocean, and he warns her to not string Ocean along because Navid thinks Ocean seems like a nice guy. Shirin, believing the relationship can only end badly, doesn’t call Ocean back.

Summary: Chapter 19

The chapter opens on Monday, the day Shirin returns to school. There, Ocean catches her after Mr. Jordan’s class. He apologizes to her, not knowing why. Shirin agrees to talk to Ocean at lunch at the tree, but when she arrives, she finds Yusef there. Yusef invites her family to his house for an iftar, the meal that Muslims eat at sunset after a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. When Ocean arrives, he thinks that perhaps Shirin is dating Yusef, but she assures him she is not. Shirin and Ocean go to Ocean’s car to talk, tell each other how they feel, and kiss. Shirin hears the school bell, and this jolts her back to reality. As Shirin leaves, Shirin feels euphoric yet confused. Afraid of such powerful feelings, Shirin suggests that they should just be friends. Ocean just stares at her, clearly confused. 

Summary: Chapter 20

To avoid Ocean, Shirin skips biology class. Later that day, while at breakdancing practice, Navid tells Shirin that he knows she kissed Ocean. When Shirin explodes and asks why anyone would care whom she kisses, Navid explains that Ocean plays on the varsity basketball team. He adds that Ocean is a junior and a star on the team.

Analysis: Chapters 16–20

That Ocean has made note of certain things about Shirin—like the fact that she hides her earbuds in her headscarf, for instance, or that she deleted her AIM profile when they first began chatting—indicates a level of keen observation and interest on Ocean’s part, as well as a distinct sense of exposure on Shirin’s. The feeling isn’t unwelcome. Though she tries to pretend she doesn’t return his feelings, his calling her “strong” renders her speechless. She’s always ready with a quick retort; being unable to think of what to say unnerves her and fuels her already growing fear of letting her guard down, of falling in love with Ocean and getting her heart broken. In Chapter 17, she admits that she feels like she’s “lost control,” speaking to the book’s larger themes and the importance Shirin places on being in control and protecting herself from emotional dangers. She throws herself into breakdancing as a means of regaining control. Later, she’s surprised that Ocean is willing to be so vulnerable as to ask if she is attracted to him, though she considers the question brave and worthy of respect where once she might have viewed this vulnerability more negatively.

Shirin continues to fight her feelings for Ocean not because she wants to hurt him, but because she wishes to shield him from the scrutiny of their peers. He has never had to experience the daily microaggressions and overt Islamophobia that Shirin has endured, and although he can empathize, he lacks the perspective necessary to truly understand how dehumanizing it can be. The looming possibility of a relationship between the two of them highlights the contrast between their lives, and her encounter with the seemingly well-meaning but wildly misguided Mr. Jordan illustrates the risk Shirin runs by letting her guard down.

Shirin’s attempt to break things off with Ocean in Chapter 19 is significant in that it marks the first time Shirin has wanted to remember someone. She spends most of her time not looking at people’s faces and making little effort to commit their likenesses to memory; Ocean, however, is someone whose features she catalogs. Though she kisses him, her insistence on remaining just friends tempers their relationship. However, the revelation on Shirin’s part that Ocean is their school’s most popular basketball player, and that they were seen kissing in his car, exposes the two of them to the very scrutiny Shirin wished to avoid.