A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhathena, is not an easy story to read. The main character, Zarin Wadia, is a “girl like that,” an outcast with a reputation, to nearly everyone in the story except for her friend Porus. And Zarin and Porus are dead on the first page.
Yep, it’s that kind of book.
Zarin lives with her aunt and uncle because her mother and father (former dancer and gangster) are dead. Her home life is extremely difficult thanks to her aunt and in spite of her uncle. At school, she is ostracized by the girls and objectified by the boys, who are a disturbing example of the meaning of rape culture. Her friend Porus is everyone’s favorite character—kind, understanding, and fiercely loyal. The book opens at the end—she and Porus are dead, victims of a car crash and floating above their bodies. Continue reading
Why did I read a YA romance novel? Oh yeah, because I thought it was something else.
Love, Hate & Other Filters follows seventeen-year-old Maya. She comes from an Indian Muslim background and is at odds with her parents. They want her to go to school close to home, become a lawyer, and make a suitable match. She wants to go to NYU, study film, and chase after her high school non-Indian crush.
I am glad this book exists because it represents one of the many kinds of Muslims in the US. Maya’s family are a cultural kind of Muslim where they are VERY Indian and also Muslim. Unfortunately, the representation here has serious issues with it. One thing is that her parents’ portrayal could not have been any more stereotypical. There was zero nuance to it. (The one part of the parents’ portrayal that rang true to me was the ending.) Also, Maya doesn’t seem to be struggling with her Indian-ness or her Muslim-ness; she’s struggling with her parent’s Indian-ness and Muslim-ness. And while Maya expresses a respect for her parent’s culture, she doesn’t once grapple with her intentions as a Muslim. The fact that she’s Muslim never plays into a single one of motivations. In that sense, I found the way this novel was promoted frustrating. Maya’s crisis with her parents is one part of the story. Continue reading
This YA novel is a heart-warming story about a group of female Muslim freshmen in a Canadian high school. Sadia, Nazreen, and Amira are busy figuring out how they fit into the world. The novel is told from Sadia’s point of view: she is strong, empathetic, and loves basketball. The rules for the tournament might mean she might not get to play in her hijab, and she doesn’t want to take it off. Nazreen is Sadia’s best friend and seems to be growing apart from her—hanging out with a new friend, constantly talking about boys, and de-jabbing at school. The new girl Amira, has just arrived as a refugee from Syria, and Sadia is trying to help her adjust. Sadia is about making friends and banding together to bring about social change. By the end of the story, all of the characters are working to change the world. Continue reading
WARNING: The following discussion contains spoilers! In other words, this post reveals what happens in the book. If you have NOT read Saints and Misfits, here is my non-spoiler review.
As I mentioned in my review, I absolutely loved this book. I found the realistic representation of a Muslim community spot-on. Janna’s voice was great. Ali weaves together all of the different subplots and tucks in the ends in subtle ways that I really appreciated. When a book is that awesome, the few things that I didn’t like or that I didn’t get stand out more. Continue reading
I loved this book so much that I’m splitting the conversation into two parts—the non-spoiler review that follows, and a spoilery discussion of the book, which you can find here.
Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali, is the book that I’ve been holding my breath for since I was fourteen years old. It perfectly captures what it’s like for Muslim teens growing up in America—trying to practice Islam when they’re still sorting out what the shape of that Islam is and how it fits together with the rest of their life.
The novel opens with Janna Yusuf in the water at the beach, scanning the coast to choose the perfect moment to come out—when no one is paying attention to her and her awkward burkini. She emerges, water squelching out everywhere and the black fabric getting covered in sand, only to be berated by her dad, “Janna, why do you have to wear that thing?”
It’s the perfect moment to describe the American-Muslim experience—young people caught between all kinds of rocks and hard places. Janna’s parents are divorced, and she is on vacation with her dad and her stepmom. He wants to know why she can’t wear a one-piece like the one Linda is wearing; Janna explains to her dad, “I’m a hijabi, remember?” Janna is caught between her dad, on the less-practicing end of the Muslim spectrum, and her mom and brother, who agree on everything. Continue reading