Ramadan Mubarak and happy new year to those who are celebrating/observing those holidays! I’m happy to be participating in the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan, whose debut, The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali I loved in 2019.
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: YA Fiction
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
Zara is much like any other teen child of immigrants in her middle class social stratum, just trying to get through high school and apply to good colleges to make those sacrifices her parents endured worth it. Unfortunately, she attends an ultra-conservative and white-dominated Catholic high school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She fights back in all the ways she can, participating in rallies and other organized actions to fight injustice with her school’s Social Justice Club, which is run by a beloved queer mentor figure, Ms. Talbot. However, when Zara and her family become victims of a series of racist and anti-Muslim hate crimes, she struggles to know how to act and react because her family’s immigration status is on the line.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is how much space Zara is given to be angry. People of color are often told our anger is too much and must be downplayed lest we be seen as aggressive and “hurting our own cause.” Zara says fuck that and calls out whiteness at every opportunity, even to the white girl she starts dating.
Even as she is filled with righteous anger, Zara is also depressed and uncertain for a lot of the book. I found that aspect incredibly realistic and relatable given the way current events have affected me and everyone I know. As someone with a strong sense of justice and material stakes in various issues, it often feels impossible to take down systems that are so much bigger than a single person. When the violence comes from those who are powerful and well connected and from policies enacted at the national level, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. Zara’s story tries to challenge that feeling and highlight some of the actions one can take to push for change.
This book is at its core a celebration of love in all its forms. Although it deals with the painful issue of hate crimes, bigotry, and oppression, it never fails to highlight the light and hope in the world. Zara may feel alone at times, but she has loyal and caring friends, family, mentors, and comrades who are there to fight alongside her, hold space for her, and pick up the slack for her when she’s struggling.
Her two best friends, Nick and Priya, were the epitome of friendship goals. And while it wasn’t the primary focus of the story, Zara’s romance with Chloe was sweet to watch take root and bloom. There is a bit of a rough patch where they have to confront the tensions of an interracial relationship where one person is white while the other is a person of color, but Chloe has enough self-awareness that allows her to do better by Zara after she messes up. The tenderness of their relationship and mutual support in the face of their respective difficulties (Chloe is dealing with her conservative Christian parents being hostile to her queerness) was really moving.
Zara’s relationship with her parents forms the beating heart of the story. Her parents are her anchor and her refuge, and she’s constantly trying to avoid making them worry for her, sometimes to her own detriment. The events of the book strain her relationship with them because even as she is searching for a way to stay in the U.S., the only place she knows as home, her parents are trying to reconcile their sacrifices and aspirations as immigrants with the hostile environment toward brown Muslim immigrants. Zara feels caught between following her parents and holding onto her own life that she’s built for herself.
The final thing I wanted to touch on in this review is how much I appreciated having supportive parents to a queer main character. In the case of Asian and Muslim families, representations of queerness tend to favor stories where the parents are completely unaccepting and oppressive, which is part of a broader pattern of racist stereotypes that assume people of color, especially Asian people, are generally and even universally more bigoted toward queer people compared to white people. The reality is much more complex and diverse. Zara’s parents accept her bisexual identity unconditionally and offer a safe space for Chloe as well. Her mother teases her affectionately about her crush on Chloe while also fighting the bigoted aunties who want to gossip at Zara’s expense. Her father, too, does not let anyone mess with Zara. I hope more queer books with positive parent-child relationships will follow.
Trigger/Content Warnings: racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim violence, hate crimes, queermisia, gun violence
About the Author:
Sabina Khan is the author of ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world.