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Review: Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza

Review: Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza

‘Rumaysa, Rumaysa, let down your hijab!’

For as long as she can remember Rumaysa has been locked away in her tall, tall tower, forced to use her magic to spin straw into gold for the evil Witch and unable to leave. Until one day, after dropping a hijab out of her small tower-window, Rumaysa realizes how she might be able to escape…

Join Rumaysa as she adventures through enchanted forests and into dragon’s lairs, discovers her own incredible magical powers and teams up with Cinderayla and Sleeping Sara!’

I love retellings of fairytales and Rumaysa is a fantastically re-imagined collection of three tales, linked together by appearances by the protagonist of the first story, which is a retelling of Rapunzel, with hints of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale woven (pun not intended) in. Rumaysa is a young Muslim girl who has been stolen away from her family and discovers she has more power than she knows – both magical and otherwise – and wields her open heart and bravery to help other girls who, like her, find themselves at the mercy of others. The next stories are retellings of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, each rewritten to be far more inclusive than the originals – and to remind young girls that are more than capable of saving themselves and don’t need to wait for a prince to rescue them.

Something that really stood out to me in the first of the stories, which is Rumaysa’s adventure about her efforts to escape the witch who is keeping her locked in a tower, is how the witch’s supposed inability to pronounce or care about Rumaysa’s name is used to highlight how often this happens to girls and boys who have beautiful names that many simply don’t take the time or care to learn how to pronounce. In having the witch repeatedly refuse to pronounce her name correctly, it demonstrates a lack of respect that is all too often perpetuated by others, especially if children see an adult unwilling to learn or even ask how a child or adult peer would like their name pronounced. It is all too obvious that the witch does know Rumaysa’s name and how to say it – she just doesn’t bother and uses her dismissive mispronunciation to hurt her until she actually needs something from her (which is when she magically manages to give her her proper name). The battle between Rumaysa and her captor, with Rumaysa finding power in her name, is hugely symbolic and one of the features of the collection as a whole that I most enjoyed.

After finding freedom in the first tale, Rumaysa travels to meet – albeit inadvertently – Cinderayla, who, as one might expect, is suffering at the hands of her step-mother and step-sisters. In this, Rumaysa takes on the role of the fairy godmother, and it’s with this narrative choice and the decision to have the step-sisters choose to make apologies and show a willingness to learn and make up for what they have done that the tale demonstrates how young women should work together and not become the rivals society and the media all too often wants them to be. It also dismantles the idea that true love can happen in a matter of hours/overnight, and that all women need to be married to be happy, for Ayla has her own ideas about the arrogant prince who has preconceived notions about her and what his status in the world means others should do.

The final tale is a twist on the story of Sleeping Beauty, full of dragons and politics and more girls saving themselves (and the day). This one wraps up the trio on hopeful notes for Rumaysa and the journey she’s on, while also leaving the proverbial door open for further adventures before she (hopefully) finds what she’s been looking for and gets back to the parents she was stolen from. I would love to see another volume of stories retold in this way, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of Rumaysa.

Rumaysa is a beautiful book, full of magic and positive messages for children, and is such a fun read that I just didn’t want it to end. I love that the ending is open ended in terms of events, but leaves the characters visited along the way with conclusions reached in their hearts, promising hope to revisit them and meet others in whatever the future holds for Rumaysa. Thank you, Macmillan Children’s Books, for sending me a proof for review!