She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert

I’m sorry to say that I did not get on at all with the very popular She Wore Red Trainers, by Na’ima B. Robert.
It’s a YA contemporary novel about Ali and Amirah, two Muslim teens living in South London. They each have “a past” but are both committed to practicing Islam the best way they can. The main plot is the romance between them; other topics are family issues and career choices.

Some good things:

  • This book is a great example of how Muslims of the opposite gender can get to know each other without dating. This is always an idea that mystifies people that didn’t grow up around it, and this book demonstrates a successful example of that beautifully.
  • I really appreciated the inclusion of a deaf character. Muslims with different abilities do exist, but our literature rarely recognizes that.
  • I liked seeing teen characters considering a wide variety of non-traditional paths after high school.

Some of what I found less successful:

  • The chapters alternate between Ali and Amirah’s first person narrations, but their voices were unfortunately not strong enough to make the transitions easy. I had to actively look for clues each time to figure out who was speaking.
  • While I did appreciate seeing characters practicing Islam, I thought the way it was done in this book was too heavy-handed. I found unrealistic the way characters were constantly discussing their faith-related motivations so openly and “correctly.”
  • Zayd (Amirah’s brother) was a really difficult character for me to stomach. I got genuinely angry in some of his scenes. I found the way he was constantly preaching at and being “protective” of Amirah overbearing and even demeaning. (I’m all for unlikable characters, but this aspect of Zayd’s behavior is presented as an imperfect personality trait that shouldn’t get in the way of his overall endearing-ness.)
  • Even though the faith interpretation in this book is close to the one that I myself follow, it was taken for granted that that is the only interpretation available, and that bothered me.

If you’ve read She Wore Red Trainers, let me know what you thought. Especially if you loved it, what did you like best about it?

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