Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World by Hana Shafi

I can’t say enough about Hana Shafi’s latest book, Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty. It is a treasure of a book; the balm for a tumultuous year.

The subtitle of the book is Affirmations for the Real World, but in the introduction, Shafi assures us that this is no book of advice. Rather, she offers affirmations and reflections as a means of reminding us that we are not alone, even when we feel unloved, awkward, or unable to sleep because we’re busy remembering every embarrassing thing we did when we were 11 years old. Her message is that we are connected: sometimes hopeless and sometimes hopeful. And sometimes our lives feel like a giant mess. And that’s ok too.

The book is filled with colourful images from Shafi’s Instagram page @frizzkidart, where she posts affirmations and illustrations. When I read Shafi’s first poetry collection, It Begins with the Body, I loved the black and white renderings of her art, which were a bit more abstract, occasionally verging on grotesque. I was thrilled to see more of her artwork in this collection and to see her images in colour. The subjects of her vibrant illustrations range from a raccoon eating potato chips, to bouquets of flowers sprouting in place of a woman’s hands, to lovingly rendered portraits inspired by Shafi’s friends. These portraits are especially compelling; Shafi features subjects of various races and from across the gender spectrum, and also highlights differently-abled bodies. I was moved by this array of representation which made the book even more accessible.

“I want to gift this book to all of my friends, and I think you will too.”

The written reflections are just as precious as each illustration— each piece of writing is filled with honesty, poignancy, and often humour. I couldn’t help but think that Shafi has her readers’ best interests at heart, even if she isn’t trying to give us advice. In fact, I felt like I was reading a note from a friend. In one chapter, Shafi describes her transformation from scaredy-cat-at-the-sleepover into a person who actually enjoys watching horror movies. She shows us that she has grown and healed as a person, and reminds us that we can too. I found myself laughing at another reflection in which Shafi describes herself not as an ugly duckling or a swan, but a “small, kind of dirty opossum with weird laser eyes that hisses at the odd passerby” (101). Here, she insists that no matter how awkward, or ungainly we might feel, we deserve to love ourselves and be loved by others. This reflection is paired with a brightly coloured rendering of a squealing opossum wearing a crown of marigolds, under the affirmation “I am so proud of myself” (103). Whacky? Yes. But also, brilliant.

I want to gift this book to all of my friends, and I think you will too. But first, sneak a read-through for yourself. Brew some tea—or pour some wine if that’s more your speed— and settle in.

About the author: Hana Shafi (AKA Frizz Kid) is a writer and artist. Her visual art and writing frequently explores themes such as feminism, body politics, racism, and pop culture. Her first book, It Begins with the Body, was listed by CBC as one of the Best Poetry Books of 2018. A graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism Program, she has published articles in The Walrus, Hazlitt, THIS Magazine, and Torontoist, and has been featured on Buzzfeed, CBC, and in Flare, Shameless and The New York Times. Known on Instagram for her weekly affirmation series, Shafi is the recipient of the 2017 Women Who Inspire Award, from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Born in Dubai, Shafi’s family immigrated to Mississauga, Ontario, in 1996. She lives and works in Toronto.

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771666091
  • Publisher: Book*hug Press (Sept. 22 2020)

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

Rachel Fernandes was raised in Ottawa, where she completed her Honours BA and MA in English at the University of Ottawa. She is now based in Kingston, where she is a PhD Candidate studying contemporary North American literature. Her research focuses on mixed race identity in various genres, including memoir, poetry, and the novel.
Over the last decade, she has published a smattering of poems through small presses such as In/Words, Joypuke, Coven, and Feathertale, and served on the editorial boards of The Ottawa Arts Review and The Lamp Literary Journal. She loves reading even more than she loves writing, and is excited to share and discuss new Canadian work through The Miramichi Reader.