With a title that uses a simple but wonderfully catchy play on words Huda Fahmy’s Huda F Are You? is another collection of the cartoonist’s experiences as an American Muslim woman. Taking a semi-autobiographical approach, it’s full of the same kind of observational humour as her Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab (reviewed here at Broken Frontier earlier this year) but this time there’s more in the way of a character arc rather than the previous book’s collection of anecdotal vignettes.
The premise of Huda F Are You? relies on the understanding that the book is based on Fahmy’s earlier years rather than being a strictly authentic adaptation of them (as much as any autobiographical work can of course be said to be a direct recollection given the subjective nature of memory). It follows the young Huda and family after they move to the town of Dearborn where there is a much larger Muslim community than she is used to.
No longer feeling defined by her culture and background, Huda comes to the realisation her identity had become wrapped up in her hijab. Now she finds herself in a world where that no longer marks her out. She isn’t part of any of the school social groups now, not fitting in with the fashionista hijabis, or the gamer hijabis, or the sporty hijabis. Huda has to rediscover herself in a totally new environment.
As with her previous work Huda F Are You? is funny, endearing and appealing. Fahmy has a marked ability to illuminate profound truths and make incisive social commentary despite appearing to never take herself too seriously on the page. In the process, and amidst all the perfectly timed comedy and the more poignant insights, the reader finds themselves following the artist’s on-page incarnation on a quest to define herself by who she is and not what differentiates her from others.
Fahmy’s uninvolved but eloquent visual style makes an immediate connection with the reader on an emotional level allowing us to share in Huda’s self-deprecating candour and empathise with her more vulnerable moments. Being romantically rejected by schoolfriend Jon, for example, constant lazy mispronunciation of her name, or the othering of Muslims in the wider community. One latter sequence is absolutely heartbreaking in its quiet intensity as Huda, having suffered the ongoing bigotry of a teacher, downplays that aggression at a key moment and in the process betrays her mother’s support.
There are perhaps coming-of-age universalities to be found here but it’s in those specifics of the lived experiences depicted that Huda F Are You? proves to be such an outstanding piece of (semi) autobio. This story of finding oneself and its reflections on where a need for acceptance comes from is witty, likeable, and ultimately thought-provoking in delivery. A follow-up book Huda F Cares will be released this Autumn.
Huda Fahmy (W/A) • Penguin Random House, £11.99
Review by Andy Oliver