For Ages
12 to 99

An unflinching, honest novel in verse about a teenager's journey into the slam poetry scene and the dangerous new relationship that could threaten all her dreams. From the award-winning poet and author of HOME IS NOT A COUNTRY.

Bad girl. No matter how hard Samira tries, she can’t shake her reputation. She’s never gotten the benefit of the doubt—not from her mother or the aunties who watch her like a hawk.

Samira is determined to have a perfect summer filled with fun parties, exploring DC, and growing as a poet—until a scandalous rumor has her grounded and unable to leave her house. When Samira turns to a poetry forum for solace, she catches the eye of an older, charismatic poet named Horus. For the first time, Samira feels wanted. But soon she’s keeping a bigger secret than ever before—one that that could prove her reputation and jeopardize her place in her community.

In this gripping coming-of-age novel from the critically acclaimed author Safia Elhillo, a young woman searches to find the balance between honoring her family, her artistry, and her authentic self.

An Excerpt fromBright Red Fruit


In the tale of Persephone

which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—­

the daughter is just meat.

—­Louise Glück, “Persephone the Wanderer”

why did i do it?

why did i lie?

everyone wants me to blame religion, my mother, the country in flames behind us, but i was not an unhappy child. we danced and colored and folded little paper boats to float in the bathtub. we tried our best and locked the doors and installed sensors in the windows. if i am to blame, it is only because i was forever curious, forever climbing onto the sill to peer out the locked window at the lives continuing outside. i was not unhappy, only restless. only hungry to know what we were trying to keep out. it was i who opened the doors, the windows. it was i who let him into the house.


all the aunties in the neighborhood love

to remember that i was a sweet kid

laughing & dimpled & affectionate

& these reveries always end with a sigh

as they look at me now, sixteen

& what they call, sorrowfully, boy ­crazy

but ever since i was small i’ve wanted

to be loved

when it was the aunties i’d reach for

to be embraced, to be kissed, it was fine

but ever since i was small i would lock eyes

with boys on passing buses, in passing cars

& wonder if i could make them love me

though all my life, mama has taken great care

to make sure i never find out


it all started when a boy whose name i wish i did not remember

he & his family long since returned to sudan

told a lie that begat another that begat several more

& in the eye of that storm hissed my name


the littlest exaggeration, intended, i’m sure, to be harmless

to get his friends to stop laughing at his inexperience

his chest puffed out, an untruth forming between his teeth

the insistence that he had, that he does. with who? they mocked.


we liked each other, passed notes back & forth

at sunday arabic school, glanced shyly over at each other

at eid gatherings, our hands brushing once at an iftar buffet

but nothing more. we barely spoke. never touched. but still


& now he’s long gone, years since the story took root

& poisoned my name, so long ago that people barely remember

the lie itself, the story, only the feeling they get when they look

at me, the disgust, the reproach, embarrassment on behalf

of my mother, & also something darker, something gleeful

& carnivorous, sinking into my name, my reputation

& drawing blood, teeth wet & red & shining


Under the Cover