By: Meera Eragoda, Arts & Culture Editor
Though the world is currently on fire, both literally and figuratively, writer and illustrator Hana Shafi’s newly released book, Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, is a soothing, reassuring, and empowering spray of water. Bonus, it’s a fairly short and digestible read and is filled with Shafi’s illustrations.
True to its name, this book is very affirming, providing assurances for anyone who has ever felt out of place in this patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist world. The book is broken up into five chapters on kindness, bodies, politics, self-love and healing, and resilience and mental health. Shafi notes that it is not a self help book. Instead, it’s a detailing of her own experience with these topics as a millennial Muslim immigrant to Canada — something I appreciated as a racialized millennial immigrant myself.
Shafi recounts stories, such as the time she was at camp and had a panic attack causing both a friend of hers and a classmate that she didn’t really know to break rules and run through a forest to get a camp counsellor. Another story she tells is about how a lost pair of underwear cemented an elementary school friendship which then transformed into a life-long friendship.
These stories, whether funny, heartwarming, or embarrassing, aim to make the reader feel less alone.
These stories are followed by reflections that examine how Shafi’s personal experiences and those of people around her are formed and informed. In one reflection, she explores her relationship with weight and body image, chronicling what it feels like to gain weight in a society that privileges people who are thin. Shafi explains how she worked through these harmful beliefs to realize that someone’s weight has no bearing on their value.
As noted in many places, Shafi’s writing and art are hugely feminist and critique things such as body politics, racism, ableism and more. Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty is a very entertaining, engaging, and accessible way of thinking about topics such as vulnerability, friendship, and finding value and comfort in your body.
To aid the reader with this, Shafi’s personal experience and reflections on society are interspersed with illustrations either of cute critters such as otters, frogs, and opossums or of Shafi’s friends accompanied by empowering messages.
There are messages that state “boys are allowed to cry, boys are allowed to feel, boys are allowed to be sensitive,” “you are allowed to get excited about the simplest of things,” and “all bodies are good bodies.”
This book is compelling because it seeks to provide readers with a little bit of joy while acknowledging that the world is still real and often hard to deal with. Shafi never focuses these affirmations on toxic positivity, instead choosing to root them in resilience. Reading this book is like trying to make sense of your place in the world through a conversation with a very supportive friend.
Shafi’s Instagram @frizzkidart is filled with her illustrations and Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty is available through Book*hug press.