Guilt is the glue that keeps Rana’s immigrant family together. In the Muslim world that Rana is from, the goal is to become a dutiful wife. However, that is a version of womanhood that Rana can’t live up to. She’s gay but keeps her sexual identity secret. Because she’s suffering from the loss of one of her best friends, Louie who died a mysterious death, Rana quits basketball and carbo loads her pain. As she shrinks into herself, her teacher Ms. Murillo tries to draw her out, telling her that her opinion matters and offering her meditation as a way to open up to possibility: “I know you’re a little shy about speaking up in class, but you have important things to say. At some point, you’re going to have to make the choice to do it, especially now that you’re going to college” (43).

To honor Louie’s memory, Rana decides to enter a contest for rappers and artists called The Way of the Wu. Even though she’s afraid to speak up in class, Rana wants to memorialize some of Louie’s work by performing one of his poems: “Louie’s gone and I’m standing here perfectly capable of speaking my truth, perfectly alive” (46). Louie rapped with intention, believing that “it’s not how fast you flow, but the meaning behind what you’re saying that counts” (46).

As Rana prepares for the contest, she discovers things about Louie from his brother Tony as well as from Louie’s writer’s notebook, facts about which she was unaware. These truths help her to face some of her own fears and denials: “I know a thing or two about denial and how it makes life so much harder pretending you’re something you’re not. Secrets aren’t treasures; they’re balls of fire that burn holes into your heart” (96).

Rana learns lessons from multiple mentors; others include Naz, Rana’s dearest female friend who calls Rana a “badass Persian bitch” (55). Telling Rana to embrace her true self and speak her truth, Naz models confidence, aggression, and independence as well as strength and beauty. From her grandfather, Rana receives poetry exposure and instruction as well as life lessons, which include “Without love, life is shit” (59). From Yasaman—a girl with red hair who lights a fire inside her—Rana comes to realize that “sometimes we feel less judgment from strangers than from our own families, who carry impossible expectations of us” (114). And from her father’s love for gardening—a metaphor for life and control—Rana accepts that everything beautiful takes time to grow. Finally, from Coach Lock, Rana learns to challenge herself, to push herself to be a better, stronger version of humanity.

Rana Joon and the One & Only Now by Shideh Etaat further instructs readers in the value of liberating ourselves from the constraints and limitations imposed by others. Life is about being the creator, not the bystander; it’s about true and deliberate freedom, about cracking her heart open with her words. As Rana writes an ode to the beautiful mess that makes her who she is, she comes to believe that her poetry is a vessel for that truth.

Etaat also draws on powerful allusions to artists such as Tupac, Frida Kahlo, and Audre Lorde and to the lotus flower as a symbol. With a lotus flower as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment as well as a metaphor for hope and change, Etaat suggests that from the murk of depression, from “all the rough conditions that occur in that deep kind of darkness. Despite all that chaos” (106), we can grow a self that is unclogged by despair if we stay strong and move beyond the obstacles. Therefore, we have a choice: to remain stuck in the mud and muck of our lives or to emerge as a “ridiculously beautiful flower.” After all, our external conditions don’t define us; “it’s how we evolve internally that shapes our paths” (264). We can let the mud swallow us or we can rise above it. In Etaat’s words: “The Way of the Wu is about being responsible for yourself and your journey on this planet, fulfilling your own destiny, no matter what” (265). Ultimately, Rana must find her voice, speak her truth, and live her life freely, not only in the moment but with joy.

  • Posted by Donna

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