Tag Archives: Islam

Book Chat: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-FattahTen Things I Hate About Me

Summary

Jamilah is Lebanese-Australian and is struggling to understand what a hyphenated identity means in the microcosm of high school. At school, she is Jamie, the blonde quiet girl that lives on the periphery of the popular circle. At home and at madrassa, she is Jamilah, the  darabuka-playing daughter struggling to make a space for herself. When the Lebanese band she plays in is invited to perform at the high school formal, Jamilah’s two worlds collide and she must finally decide who she is to everyone.10 things i hate.png


Favorite Character

Shereen – Since she had more time with their mom and she’s a big sister, her groundedness provides a strong example of how to be proud of all parts of your identity for Jamilah. Plus, I love how she has created an active feminism that respects and fits into the rest of identity while still challenging the parts she finds difficult.

Favorite Line 

“I read headlines describing the crimes as ‘Middle Eastern rape.’ I’ve never heard of Anglo burglary or Caucasian murder. If an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, the only descriptions we get are the colour of his clothes and hair.”

The book may not be subtle in any of the “lessons,” but it is honest.

Fun Author Fact

Abdel-Fattah has worked as a lawyer, an interfaith activist, a consultant for media representation of Muslims and Middle-Easterns, and is not working toward her Ph.D. – I am always impressed by all the things writers do in addition to writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a more surface-level look at identity, racism, and the need to be/fear of acceptance. Jamie/Jamilah’s story is not very complex and sometimes it’s a little too sweet, but over all it’s an interesting look at the process and difficulties of self-acceptance.

Read These Next

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger for another look at a teenager reconciling different identities or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman for a fun, middle grade look at what balancing Indian and Jewish identities might be like.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: The Secret Sky

18350034The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Summary

Fatima and Samiullah have been friends since childhood – even though his family is Pashtun and own the land that Fatima’s Hazara family and friends farm. When Sami returns from the madrassa a young man, Fatima realizes they’ve both grown. But neither realizes just how much trouble trying to keep their friendship alive will cause. Sami’s cousin discovers their secret meetings and triggers a swirl of events that brings in the local Taliban, violence, dishonor, and death.

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Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship between Fatima and Samiullah is pretty cute and I appreciate that it builds on their childhood friendship rather than on a fleeting glance or an instant connection. They have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going which bumps up the sparks. But there are things that happen that make it difficult to give a higher score. The relationship springs from real respect and love, but they’re forced into a decision that is rooted in a very unromantic cultural situation.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Again, it is really difficult to give a score for this. Fatima herself is awesome and I love her determination to live the life she wants. But, there are so many things stacked against her socially and within her family that I can’t give it anything higher. Fatima studies and cherishes her reading lessons from her best friend’s grandmother. The small part that the grandmother plays is important because she shows what life could be like and encourages Fatima to dream of a life more than the farming, wife-ing, and mothering that is her likely future.

But, when her family finds out that Fatima and Samiullah have been meeting and he’s interested in marrying her, things rapidly go downhill. Horrible things happen, and one of the worst parts is her mother’s behavior.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is set in Afghanistan with Muslim characters, one family is very poor and the other is wealthy. In many ways it’s winning in the representation field. But, the Taliban comes into the story and things just go downhill. I’m really excited to see more international characters with stories giving us a fuller picture of the world. But, I’m a little concerned that we’re falling into the “one story problem” with young girls from South Asia. I know these are important stories, but they’re also the only stories we see in the news and mainstream media. I’d love to see something counter to the mainstream stories. That being said, I know that the authors do struggle with their decision to write these stories – Aisha Saeed has talked at length about her fear of writing her forced marriage book, Written in the Stars, because she didn’t want to be providing another negative story. It just illustrates our need for greater breadth of representation for all groups.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The writing in this book in beautiful and I think Abawi captures the people and landscape beautifully. I really liked Fatima and her determination to carve her own path. I liked the alternating point of view and that, while the story is centered on Fatima and Samiullah, Rashid gets a lot more depth as the story proceeds. It’s also great to see characters redeemed, though it’s a rather sad redemption. I would still recommend this book, but I’d emphasize that it continues the narrative of Afghanistan that is most prevalent in the media.


Favorite Character

Fatima – because she’s determined and hopeful and optimistic even when the situation is terrible.

Favorite Line

“This is when I realize that my mother doesn’t love me anymore. Her children aren’t people to her. We are her accessories, like a new payron or bangle. She wanted me to marry the boy in the other village because it would have made her look good, not because she was looking out for my welfare.”

I know this is kind of a depressing line, but it struck me because it is so true for some mothers everywhere. Sometimes they forget that they are bringing people into the world and not beings to maneuver.

Fun Author Fact

Atia Abawi has worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN in Afghanistan, Israel, and many other countries. Her work experiences inspired this story.

Read These Next

Like No Other by Una LaMarche for another couple fighting cultural and social expectations to be together or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another South-Asian girl fighting cultural norms to fulfill her dreams.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

 

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

This post heavily edited after thoughts.

Summary

Scarlett graduated from high school early and opened a detective agency – both for something to do and to investigate her own family’s tragedy. When her newest case gets rolling, she realizes there may be more to it than she first thought. Soon, she finds herself deep into a millennia-old battle involving djinn and curses – and her own family history.

scarlett undercover

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I appreciated that Scarlett’s policeman/mentor has a thing for Reem, Scarlett’s sister, but has enough respect for her choices to not push. Scarlett has her own long-time friend turned possibly-something-more that gives her the best kind of confusion and excitement. The two don’t do too much physically, but I still felt the tingles and thought it was super cute and a happy start for something that could be awesome. Even so, the romance is more warm than hot and not the focus of the story.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying and Good Effort

Scarlett and her sister are making it on their own after family tragedy. Reem is on her way to being a successful doctor and Scarlett is still a teenager but has her own business. She’s an entrepreneur with great marketing ideas. In addition, there’s a diner owning, straight-talking mama bear who gives the sisters advice and watches out for them.

But. But…Reem wears a headscarf and in the story, she becomes serious and unfun and unsocial when she starts wearing it – all things opposite from the hijabis I know. Also, the thing that happens to their mom is embedded in a stereotype that Muslim women and is an unfortunate perpetuation of something that, while a problem in the community, is not really necessary or good to have in a book. Having her fight the stereotype would have been nicer.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

Scarlett is a brown-skinned, Muslim girl that left high school early because it was too easy. Her character is spunky and smart and is determined to figure out the answers to what happened to her family. I appreciate so, so much that this character is here and available. I also like that we get to see several ways of being Muslim (though see note about regarding Reem). Scarlett makes some decisions that are less traditional (not praying all 5 prayers, getting a tattoo, not wearing a headscarf) but she is no less Muslim than her sister who does do those things.

One thing that struck me as odd – Scarlett and Reem have very different names. I know it’s not impossible, but I thought it a little weird that Reem had a fairly traditional name and Scarlett’s was fairly…not. Other things that made me reduce the score: the religion as written is a mess of randomness. I don’t think anyone (Muslim) would recognize this as Islam as they know it, but maybe as a book with pieces of Islam thrown in with a bunch of other stuff to make it work for the story. There are also a few things that are pretty anti-tradition, for example, one of the characters  gives the peace greeting to Scarlett and then ends up attacking her. That’s a pretty big no-no. And, like, obviously not all Muslims follow everything, but when you’re writing a religion with such bad press, you should try to adhere to most things, you know?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

The mystery in this book isn’t super hard to figure out, but it brought in a lot of interesting possibilities and the characters were fun. The book is written at a quick pace and Latham has a very specific way of writing. It sets the tone really well and calls back to old detective stories. In some ways, it feels like a brilliant bit of building Scarlett’s character – she wants to be a detective, so she “puts on” the things she thinks they do. I liked Scarlett’s personal story and the larger mystery, and the value of family – chosen and born. But, I would have liked representation that was a little more recognizable as and positive about Muslims and Islam.


Favorite Character

Gemma – she’s a smart kid and has a full grasp of the real world and who she should really ask for help. I appreciate her bravery in reaching out for help and her love for her brother that keeps her going.

Favorite Line

But Deck’s words still chafed like burlap pants.

The similes in this book are HILARIOUS! I picked this one because it made me laugh out loud, but there were tons of others. The writing sets the tone and expertly captures Scarlett’s voice.

Is this book worth a hangover?

Scarlett Undercover is fun and fast. It’s a light mystery and the story is quick. I liked the book and I was initially excited about more representation, but I’m afraid that this doesn’t really hit the mark fully. This isn’t quite as deep as I expected it to be, but I’m still glad I read it and would easily recommend it to others.

Fun Author Fact

Latham used to help with autopsies. That’s both fun and creepy.

Read These Next

Tiny, Pretty Things by Sona Charaiportra and Dhonielle Clayton is a mystery embedded in the intrigues of ballet school or Endangered by Lamar Giles that follows Panda as she exposes people’s affairs and then fights a blackmailer.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

Summary

The story switches between the present and the past, following older sister, Sohane, as she unravels her feelings around her younger sister, Djelila. As Sohane battles with guilt, grief, and anger, we learn that while she was growing more religiously observant, her sister was spending time partying with her non-observant, non-Muslim friends. And the neighborhood jerks took notice – they began harassing Djelilia for her “misbehaving” and Sohane sort of agreed with them…until they took their attacks too far.

Favorite Character

None of the characters really jumped off the page. Most of the time, they felt flat and, while I thought the tension between guilt and righteousness in Sohane’s narration was great, I really wish the book had alternating chapters between Djelila and Sohane because neither felt fully developed.

Favorite Line

This was written very, very sparsely. It was not the style that either of us generally read and no lines really stood out.

Fun Author Fact

Amelie Sarn is also a comic book writer.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I am not sure. It might be the translation, but if felt very stiff and lacked development. I wanted to know more about the characters and get more deeply embedded in their lives, but the lack of description created a kind of barrier. In some ways, this felt like a very long-form journalism piece rather than a book. I still found Sohane and Djelila’s story interesting, there just wasn’t enough to it.

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for another perspective on bullying or This Side of Home by Renee Watson for another story about sisters struggling to understand the slow cracks in their relationship.

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1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Beneath My Mother’s Feet

Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar

Summary3124412

After her brother leaves the family and her father is injured at work, Nazia finds a lot of the responsibility to care for her family falls on her shoulders. Her mother does what she believes is necessary to support her three children, pulling Nazia from school and becoming a maid for several women in the city’s rich neighborhood. As things with her father deteriorate, Nazia must navigate friendships, social barriers, and the line between right and wrong to decide what kind of life she will make for herself – while continuing to honor her beliefs.

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Romance Score – Not A Bit

Nazia has long known she is destined to marry her cousin. The wedding becomes imperative once the family’s situation worsens, but her mother’s decisions put the pairing in jeopardy. Nazia’s feelings toward her future husband are ambivalent at best and, once she meets him, even less positive. It is not the idea of an arranged marriage, but the economic and family pressure coupled with the lack of interest Nazia has toward her betrothed that drop the score.

RosieFeminist Score – A+ Success

Without spoilers, I can say that Nazia makes decisions about her life for herself, choosing the path that will make her happy and, ultimately, probably will enable her to help her family even more. Her mother is also a pretty awesome figure, doing what she believes is right for her children even when it means suffering indignities and abuse from her employers/life. This book highlights the various situations of women in Pakistan without making it an “oh, look at the poor foreign women” story (more on this below). There is some cruelty rained down from the wealthy mistresses, but because Nazia is such a strong, self-respecting character I’m saying it balances out (and that this is more classist behavior than woman-on-woman, although ignoring classism is definitely a big part of the problem with some current feminist movements). This book does fall a bit into the “all men are bad, let’s hate them all” category, but if you remember that this is ONE story of multitude then I can get over it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score – Good Effort

I’m in two minds about this score – on one hand, it could go to A+ Success because it’s set in Pakistan, has only Pakistani characters who are (mostly?) Muslim and for most of the US audience this would be a huge check in the diversity box. BUT, for Pakistani-Americans or Pakistanis, this would be a book about their culture, families, and homeland with little diversity. Even so, there are wide ranges of economic classes, education level, and employment types in the book, so other types of diversity are on full display if we discount nationality and religion. Plus, since we’re reading in the US, I’m grading based on that and I’m so excited to see a book about Muslims in another country just going about their lives like everyone else – though, it does feel like the author may have a bit of a n ax to grind about women’s treatment in Pakistan.

wow iconAwesome Score – Good Effort

I really liked reading Nazia’s story- I admired her efforts to see the best in people and to do what she can to ease her family’s and friends’ pain. She is strong and resourceful and stubborn, all things I like in my characters. I loved that the book was about a mother and daughter butting heads but still able to show and share their love for each other. Also, I truly felt like this was about Pakistan, with small details capturing every day life while not alienating the (non-Pakistani) reader. It’s a little light on depth and not super original, but I liked Nazia’s spunk enough to give it a higher score. The story is pretty negative towards men and I do worry that it repeats a lot of tropes/stereotypes about life in a Muslim country, but I think that it is also an honest portrayal of what life can be like. I think, if it’s coupled with another Pakistani story that’s completely different, that would go a long way to ameliorating the “one story” problem.


Favorite Character

Maleeha – Nazia’s best friend never gives up hope and is the kind of person we should all be lucky to have in life – she’s willing to tell you the difficult truths, keep your secrets, and rescue you for a day at the beach when you really need it. I liked that we had this image of girls supporting each other through thick and thin (and the contrast with Nazia’s other friend).

Note: I could have gone with Sherzad because he kept his spirits up and was so positive, but since we don’t know what happens to him in the end I couldn’t let myself choose him.

Favorite Line

Fun Author Fact

Her characters will get into her mind and take over, making it hard to concentrate and even sleep (!) until the story is fully developed and ready for writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think you can get your sleep with this one. It’s an interesting story but it doesn’t pull you in like some others. I would also recommend this for younger YA rather than YA/NA readers. I do think it’s important to remember that this is ONE story about ONE girl’s life in Pakistan. Not every girl will have the same life – even Maleeha, a girl from Nazia’s neighborhood and economic class would have a totally different story.

Read this Next

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (reviewing soon!) or Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.

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1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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