We’re In This Together by Linda Sarsour

A Young Readers edition of her bestseller We Are Not Here To Be Bystanders.

Wow, this book is a rollercoaster. And let me start out by saying that it’s actually quite good, and honestly great if you’re a young person looking to get started in advocacy and public policy in America, potentially worldwide. Linda Sarsour’s story is inspirational, explaining how she used everything she was raised in, the good and the bad, to form her mission, taking the breadth of her worldview and focusing it into direct, impactful action.

As the daughter of Palestinian immigrants in New York, she helped her dad run the bodega he named after her while absorbing his life lessons on how to treat the people around them. As a student whose mother thought it was better for her to go to an underachieving school close to home rather than to a more prestigious school further away, she saw how minorities were overpoliced and punished for things their white counterparts would never be criminalized for. As a young person visiting family in Palestine, she saw the terror and fear engendered by the Israeli forces occupying her parents’ homeland. And as a grown-up and mother, she saw that her voice was best used not as an English teacher, as she’d originally planned to be, but as a political advocate, stepping in to help her community — whether this means fellow Brooklynites, minorities, Muslims or Arabs — whenever they’re in need.

And often, this just means being able to translate from Arabic to English and back (multilingualism is your friend, folks!), or being ready to hand out food to the hungry, or go door to door with information, or just being the body who’s there to protest and bear witness to injustice. I genuinely loved reading of her path to prominence in activism, which basically started out from listening to a woman who needed help and making a few phone calls. I did wish she’d talked a little more about finance, beyond soliciting donations from the generous Arab/Muslim communities, but this book is meant to be for young/middle grade readers, so I get why it doesn’t go into greater detail.

But that, unfortunately, was one of the reasons this book bothered me, that it really does read like a bowdlerized version of a more sophisticated tome. I wish I had the time to read We Are Not Here To Be Bystanders and compare the two, but some of the prose here just read so awkwardly that it’s hard not to feel like the reader is being talked down to: hardly the best tone to use when engaging and encouraging youth.

Of even greater annoyance to me were the really weird bits about being visibly Muslim. First of all, wearing a headscarf is hardly a reflection of inner humility, as she (ironically) proudly claims. But, y’know, I respect any woman’s decision to show or not show as much of her body as she wants when she dresses, and strongly believe that people who don’t like it should avert their eyes and mind their business. I’m especially happy when people buck societal pressure to live their own truths. What made me grimace, tho, was this weird need to “look” Muslim. I get that visibility matters, but it felt like her need to be visibly Muslim came from a weird jealousy that she didn’t automatically look like a minority until she started wearing a hijab. It’s always uncomfortable when people who can pass without effort make a point to show how “true” they are to their roots. Besides which, you shouldn’t be wearing a hijab because you have something to prove, you should be doing it as a covenant with God — a covenant that obviously hasn’t called to me yet, so your mileage may certainly vary.

Other than that, I found this book immensely inspirational and often moving. I cried at least twice. This is definitely something you can give to the young person in your life who’s looking to make a political difference, so they can start understanding what it takes and where to begin, with not much more than an understanding of what you have to offer, and being ready to act when the time is right.

We’re In This Together by Linda Sarsour was published November 29 2022 by Salaam Reads and is available from all good booksellers, including

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