Chapters 21–25

Summary: Chapter 21

Shirin recalls her assault after 9/11. Some kids at her school warned Navid that they had overheard the boys planning the attack, and Navid showed up in time to save Shirin’s life. She recalls how the ignorant cops questioned her hijab, asked if she spoke English, and let the perpetrators go with a warning. Shirin’s family moved a month later. Shirin admires her mother’s quiet strength, courage, and resilience. Later, Shirin reflects on the fact that since she never attended a pep rally, she never knew about Ocean’s star status. During a late-night call, he opens up about basketball. He tells the unhappy story of his parents’ divorce, his grandparents’ deaths, his mother’s inheritance, and his subsequent obsession with basketball. As they talk, Ocean calls her “baby,” and Shirin melts. 

Summary: Chapter 22

An Indian girl at school accuses Shirin of disrespecting Muslim women by kissing a boy, but Shirin passionately defends her right to make her own choices. That day, she and Ocean meet at the tree and agree to keep their relationship going.

Summary: Chapter 23

Shirin reflects on the fact that she enjoys fasting for Ramadan while Navid hates it. Shirin invites Ocean to a Saturday night breakdancing battle. It is the biggest one she’s attended and full of older kids. As Shirin watches the other dancers, her mind is half there, and half focused on Ocean’s body pressed against hers. 

Summary: Chapter 24

After the dance battle, Navid gives Shirin and Ocean one hour alone after warning Ocean not to hurt his sister. Ocean takes Shirin to the park where he learned to play basketball, and they discuss his relationship to the sport. He explains how he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone: his mother, his coaches, their school, or the town. Shirin cares that his situation hurts him, and he is touched by her compassion. Later that night, during a 3:00 a.m. phone call, they express how much they miss each other and admit that they wish they had kissed.

Summary: Chapter 25

Shirin and Ocean continue to play it cool at school so as not to draw too much attention to their relationship. However, when his basketball coach, Coach Hart, sees their hands intertwined, Shirin anticipates trouble.

Anlaysis: Chapters 21–25

Shirin recounting her violent attack at this point in the story serves to illustrate the risk she faces every day simply by existing. The fact that the police officers who arrived on the scene didn’t arrest her attackers and then went on to blame Shirin for her own victimhood signifies the degree to which Shirin has had to rely on herself and distrust others, even (perhaps especially) those in positions of authority. This is the level of racism she is up against, and it was from this that she wished to shield Ocean.

Having discovered Ocean’s secret, Shirin feels sure that her identity as an outsider isn’t compatible with Ocean’s identity as the apex of their school’s social hierarchy. She has begun to view him through a different lens, seeing him not as the person she has come to know but as the person everyone else believes him to be. When he texts her a simple sad face emoji, however, she’s reminded of the human behind the archetype.

Their conversation reveals that both Shirin and Ocean experience the weight of others’ expectations. The role reversal between Ocean and his mom, and his desire to make her happy despite her lack of interest, indicates that Ocean’s identity is in flux. Basketball has become symbolic of belonging to him, but because of the pressure, it’s also a burden. Where once it was a safe haven, an escape from the turmoil in his life, now it’s become the source of the turmoil, and Ocean resents being seen as a star player and nothing more. In a way, Shirin can relate; she knows what it feels like to have your identity placed in the hands of others, to be defined by one single aspect of yourself, to be put in a box, and to sometimes resent something that was once a source of joy.

Having been thrust into a uniquely glaring spotlight by publicly dating Ocean, Shirin ignores the whispers and disapproval, and eventually the drama appears to die down. The two of them are happy together at last. However, the light, breezy tone gives way to a sense of foreboding when Ocean’s basketball coach and longtime mentor emerges as an antagonistic force.