Love from A to Z

If a YA novel is about a female Muslim protagonist who falls for a guy, the chances are that he is a non-Muslim. This is annoying to me not because it doesn’t happen, but because the opposite happens, too, and is so infrequently written about. S. K. Ali’s newest contemporary YA novel, Love from A to Z, is about that sadly neglected story line—what happens when a Muslim guy and girl fall for each other. It’s well-written and complex: the characters, who are both relatable and endearing, each have their own issues to deal with, and it is so refreshing to see a YA novel that tells a romance story with practicing Muslim characters.

This is the story of Adam and Zayneb, who meet in Doha over spring break. But it’s not really spring break for Adam because he’s not going back to school. He’s just been diagnosed with MS, which his mother died of years ago. Zayneb’s spring break is also complicated: she’s taking it one week early after being suspended for a run-in with an Islamophobic teacher at her high school. After a serendipitous initial meeting in a London airport, Zayneb and Adam meet again in Doha:  Zayneb’s aunt, who she’s staying with, is an old friend of Adam’s mother.

The book has a (delightfully sage) narrator who begins and ends the book and also butts in in the middle for an interlude. But the majority of the book is told through the journal entries of Adam and Zayneb. In an (again) serendipitous turn of events, they both keep a journal called Marvels and Oddities, in which they record the marvels (wonderful things) and oddities (not-so-wonderful things) they experience. True to his character, Adam’s journals are full of marvels. If you were to ask Adam what he wants most in the world, he would say peace. Zayneb’s journals are full of oddities, and if you asked her the same question, she would say justice. Throughout the book, Zayneb’s struggle is how to harness her anger into beneficial action that will have long-lasting effects. Adam’s struggle is to go after what he wants. Their struggles are real and timely, and I found the ending really satisfying.

I highly recommend this heartwarming and powerful YA novel about falling in love, believing in yourself, and trusting in your community of friends and allies.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Find it here: Goodreads | Simon and Schuster | Amazon.com | Book Depository

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Internment

A YA dystopian novel set in a near-future US where Muslims are placed in internment camps? Yes, please! (If this premise sounds outlandish to you, then perhaps you aren’t living in the same world I am and/or you’ve forgotten about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Excluding an entire class of Americans based on unfounded fears happens to be a part of our history.) Samira Ahmed’s Internment creates this hypothetical world, and it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019.

Bravo to Ahmed for writing this book, and I’m glad to see that it’s doing well in the YA market. I enjoyed seeing a beautiful tafseer of ayah al-kursi in a book put out by a major publisher. I hope readers of all backgrounds will see parts of themselves in the Muslim characters and have important conversations about oppression and silent complicity.  View Post

The Weight of Our Sky

I’ve gotten used to keeping my little quirks hidden. I’m pretty smart anyway, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that to be inflicted with djinns ranks right up there as among the worst things that can happen to you when you’re sixteen years old and studying in an all-girls’ school. Girls are vicious creatures… Every day for me is like its own special, specific challenge: find ways to appease the Djinn and his voracious appetite for numbers, without letting anyone realize I’m doing it.

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf is the newest YA release from Salaam Reads. It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Malaysian Melati who loves music and especially the Beatles. She lives with her mother and has to deal with a djinn, who whispers to her and fills her head with images of horrible things happening to the people she loves. The only way to appease him and to protect those around her is to count in threes. Her “djinn” is in fact OCD, but in 1960s Malaysia, mental health awareness doesn’t exist yet. There is a stigma around mental illness and the accepted explanation is that there is a djinn (a creation of God that Muslims actually do believe in, albeit not in this form) inhabiting her. That is how she interprets the voice in her head. View Post

She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert

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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.

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons breakdancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down. [Taken from the publisher’s blurb.]

I really enjoyed this YA contemporary about a Muslim high school student who is the victim of constant microaggressions. 

The main character, Shirin, is the best part of this book for me. She is such a complex and fantastic character. So used to being disappointed, she has given up on her fellow human beings, and even stops looking at the people around her, out of fear. But she’s so smart, beautiful, and badass that she intimidates everyone. So the irony of the shell she’s built up around herself is that she’s put it up for her own protection, but everyone else thinks they need protection from her. View Post