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By Sanjyot P. Dunung

IR Rating:
The author is explicit in her aim to educate young adults about the different cultural expectations girls and women face in different parts of the world, and while the plot is fast-paced, long explanatory digressions keep the novel pedantic.
Aimed at the younger end of Young Adult, MADDIE & SAYARA follows the adventures of two girls who become fast friends on a resort in the Bahamas but learn the limitations of their cultural differences once the vacation ends.

Maddie and Sayara meet in the Bahamas on vacation and instantly bond. Both from wealthy households, the girls are curious, spunky, kind, and charmingly teen-aged. They marvel at how much they have in common despite living on opposite sides of the globe, and become fast friends. But Sayara’s vacation is cut short when her cousin Themi is put in jail for driving a car, and Maddie makes it her mission to “help Themi” by travelling to “the Kingdom” to… break her out of jail?

Maddie’s naivety is overplayed in order to teach the reader lessons about cultural differences, but the author doesn’t give teens enough credit. Sayara is clearly from the Middle East, and descriptions of where she lives very closely align with Saudi Arabia, but language is kept vague to the point of being disrespectful: all characters, even locals, call the burqa a “tent;” frequent reference is made to the “Faith Police” without ever once mentioning a faith. There are long, pedantic explanations about the rules governing “the Kingdom,” all performed for Maddie’s benefit, which would have been a great opportunity to expose teenagers to the mores of a real place and the lives of real women. Still, scenes in “the Kingdom” do enlighten readers to the discrepancies in expectations for women. As Sayara pleadingly asks Maddie, “Why am I considered a burden, and you get to be a blessing?”

The girls are realistically 13 and young adult readers will root for their star-crossed friendship. The characters have a genuine bond and fresh personalities that immediately endear the reader to their wild schemes. The plot is filled with action and clever turns, and plenty of scenes in which girls get to shine. It is a disappointment that such a genuine, honest friendship story is held back by vague language.

A cross-cultural friendship story filled with high-wire action and suspense, MADDIE & SAYARA is a fun read that too often condescends to the reader in its vague language.

~Danielle Bukowski for Indie Reader

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