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. Continue reading

Review—Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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While this book does not have Muslim representation, Somaiya Daud is a Muslim author, and I’m all about supporting Muslim authors. 

Blurb from the publisher:

In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated home.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty―and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

A Moroccan-inspired sci-fi/fantasy YA that tackles colonialism, rebellion, and identity by a Muslim author? Yes, please. Continue reading

Saints and Misfits Discussion Questions

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I reread Saints and Misfits this month for my real-life book club, and I thought it would be helpful to share the discussion questions we used.

Instead of going through the questions one by one, we used it to spark conversations by taking turns choosing the questions we found interesting. There are generic questions and more specific questions so that everyone had a chance to speak to whatever interested them about the novel.

Here’s the printable PDF:
Saints and Misfits Discussion Qs

Let me know if you use it or if it’s helpful for you! I’d love to have feedback!

Review—An Acquaintance by Saba Syed

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When Sarah begins her senior year of high school, Jason is just the cute new soccer captain. But as they spend more and more time together, Sarah feels increasingly conflicted about the nature of their relationship. She still insists, however, that he is just “an acquaintance.”

I read through this compelling story in a single day. I couldn’t put it down until I found out what would happen to the characters, and when I finally did, I kept thinking about the complex themes Saba Syed explores through the life of a teenage girl.   Continue reading

Review—A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

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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

Review—Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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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

Review—Sadia by Colleen Nelson

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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

Discussion—Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

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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

Review—Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

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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