Tag Archives: Muslim

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Part 2 of my tour stop for the the blog tour organized by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours! Refer to Part 1, my review, for all the book information. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book. These are spoiler-free, so don’t worry.

Note: These quotes are from the final published version of the book.

Quote #1

Abiding by all these rules day in and day out is exhausting, but my parents have sacrificed too much for me to throw it all away by being selfish. They left behind their lives in Bangladesh and moved here in the hopes of giving me a better life. They want me to grow up and be successful, to be financially stable, to be focused and diligent and hardworking.

I know they’re thinking about my future, but I don’t know how to be the daughter they can gloat about at our community parties, the daughter whose achievements they can praise to their coworkers, the daughter who never steps a toe out of line and does everything exactly as they wish. Still, a part of me wants that—to be enough for them, to have them be proud of me. The rest of me wishes I could crawl into a hole.

Page 40

Quote #2

I have no idea what’s happening, but I do know I want to sink into the ground.

Page 83

Quote #3

“Writing is what helped me gain confidence in myself. There’s something really special about being able to express yourself with words. I love stories and I love poems and I love learning more and more with each word. I think it’s amazing.”

Page 91

Quote #4

Ace’s smile widens into a blinding grin. I’m going to kill him. “I took her on a date to a local bakery. She ordered the cheesecake and said it wasn’t nearly as sweet as me.”

His foot is close enough that I step on it in retribution. He winces but quickly covers it up. It still brings me some satisfaction.

Page 125

Quote #5

“If you don’t explain what the hell is happening right now, I’m going to pour my orange juice down your shirt,” Cora threatens pleasantly.

Page 137

Quote #6

“Stop flirting,” Cora says, her eyes bright with amusement.

I gape at them. “I just told him to die.”

Nandini looks exasperated. “We’re Gen Z, Karina. That’s how we flirt.”

Page 152

Quote #7

As promised, Ace is waiting when I step out of AP Physics. “You’re like an annoying stray cat that won’t stop following me,” I say before wiggling my fingers at him. “Want a scratch on the head?”

Page 168

Quote #8

Why am I selfish if I want to do what I love? It’s my life and my future. Not my parents’. Mine. They gave me the tools to be here, but that shouldn’t mean that they get to make every choice for me.

I’m not a bad person for wanting a life different than what’s expected of me. I’m not a bad person for wanting to pursue something I love.

I’m not a bad person for wanting. But I feel like I am.

Page 200

Quote #9

But then, strangely enough, Ace holds out a hand to me. “Do you trust me?”

I stare at the hand, a mix of exhilarated and nervous. “This isn’t Aladdin.”

“It’s not,” he says. “But do you trust me?”

Page 232

Quote #10

“The older I am, the more I realize it’s not worth it to prioritize things that make you miserable,” Dadu says. “I don’t want that for you.”

Page 285

And that’s the end of the quotes. I hope this gives you a taste of what the story and characters are like and their appeal. 🙂

[Blog Tour] Review for Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

I put a countdown clock to this review on my Instagram story because I thought it was apt, and now the wait is over. I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Tashie Bhuiyan’s Counting Down with You, hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours.

Book Information

Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Cover: Samya Arif (artist), Gigi Lau (art direction)
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 04 May 2021
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary

Synopsis:

A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.

How do you make one month last a lifetime?

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

Review:

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book as a part of this tour, but it did not affect my opinion of the book. I ended up reading the finished copy that I bought rather than the ARC, so this review is based on the final version of the book.

Counting Down with You is a book that made me go “oof.” While the story is billed as a fake dating romance (which it is, to its credit), to me, it’s fundamentally a story of a teen girl finding the courage to be fully herself and to witness what is possible when she isn’t being suffocated by her parents’ expectations.

The first thing that really spoke to me in this book was the representation of anxiety. The constant feeling of being on edge, of fearing the worst, of wondering if you’ll ever be enough for anyone, hit really close to home. Karina’s panic attacks and breakdowns were very visceral in a way that resonated with my own experience, to the point where I also found myself struggling to breathe a bit when I was following her emotional journey.

Unlike Karina, I did not have abusive parents, but I still felt the weight of so many expectations that held me back from making choices because I wanted something rather than because I was afraid of any negative consequences that might follow. I also had a STEM to liberal arts pipeline experience. In college, I had a quarter-life crisis where I realized I did not want to do engineering as a career, even though I’d chosen it as a major myself when applying. Even though I was miserable, I kept putting off and dismissing the idea of changing majors until I was already 84% of the way done with my degree requirements. By then I felt like it was too late to change my major, so instead I considered adding a second one, Asian American studies. At the time, I was already a legal adult, so people might expect that you can just do whatever you want because what’s stopping you? But it’s different when you’re the child of Asian immigrants. I was worried what my parents would think about the decision to switch from engineering with its prestige and financial stability to an obscure liberal arts major that almost nobody knows about with career prospects that are super questionable. Plus, I needed to take an extra year to finish the second major/degree, which meant spending more of their hard-earned money because I was still financially dependent on them. So in that sense, Karina’s experience spoke deeply to mine, as a second generation Asian American trying to step off the path that I’d once assumed was the only one for me, terrified of disappointing the people I loved most by choosing happiness.

But enough about me. Back to the characters.

Not gonna lie, I did not particularly like Ace’s character at the beginning (and I didn’t really find the “bad boy” label that fitting because he was just a rich white boy acting out a little but not actually doing that much “bad” stuff), but he grew on me over time. While teen me definitely would have written him off based on appearances, adult me acknowledges he was perfect for Karina in helping her personal growth and bringing out her inner spark. I appreciate that the two talked about boundaries and that Ace respected Karina’s boundaries even when he disagreed with how she reacted regarding her parents’ treatment of her.

I loved pretty much all of the supporting characters and Karina’s relationship with them. Her besties, Cora and Nandini, were the best friendship squad a person could ask for, providing a mixture of good-humored teasing/roasting and unconditional love and support. Karina’s brother, Samir, surprised me in good ways with his maturation over the course of the story, and I guess I’m a sucker for sibling bonds in fiction. Her Dadu (paternal grandmother) was one of my all-time favorite characters because she was brimming with love and wisdom and acted as one of Karina’s staunchest allies against her parents’ harmful treatment. Dadu is my personal hero.

To sum up the book in one sentence: Counting Down with You will break your heart and then heal it.

Trigger/Content Warnings: Abuse (emotional/psychological), anxiety and panic attacks

Books Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Tashie Bhuiyan is a Bangladeshi American writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, and hopes to change the world, one book at a time. She loves writing stories about girls with wild hearts, boys who wear rings, and gaining agency through growth. When she’s not doing that, she can be found in a Chipotle or bookstore, insisting 2010 is the best year in cinematic history. (Read: Tangled and Inception.)

Author links:

Author website — https://www.tashiebhuiyan.com/
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19589512.Tashie_Bhuiyan
Instagram — http://instagram.com/tashiebhuiyan
Twitter — http://twitter.com/tashiebhuiyan 

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Hello, hello, if you missed my review for Zara Hossain is Here you can find my review and all the details about the book in this post. This here is a [spoiler-free] post collecting some of my favorite quotes from the book that resonated or expressed something meaningful to me. These quotes demonstrate Zara’s fierceness, her vulnerability, her tenderness, her way of navigating a hostile world, her sense of home and belonging, and her joy.

Quote #1

“The thing is, when it comes to me, Nick can be overprotective. Even though I never act like a damsel in distress, Nick has always seen himself as my knight in shining armor. I’ve never needed a knight. I can wield my own damn sword when I need to.”

page 12

Quote #2

“Just then a chorus erupts from our side, everyone calling out ‘Trans rights are human rights!’ We join in as the crowd’s energy rises, and I can’t help feeling lucky that I get to do this. It feels good to shout and drown out the hateful rhetoric coming from the opposite side of the street. It feels good to do something.”

page 23

Quote #3

“I’m exhausted from the burden of representing almost two billion people. It’s gotten to the point where anytime there’s a crime reported in the news, I find myself praying that the perpetrator is white and non-Muslim.”

page 39

Quote #4

“My heart is beating a million miles per second, and I have the urge to burst into song. Something romantic and cheesy from a Shah Rukh Khan movie.”

page 41

Quote #5

“My parents love me unconditionally, even when I put them in difficult situations. They only care about my happiness, not what society tells them they should care about. And I respect them so much for it. I have friends who struggle with who they are because their families don’t accept them. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I could never really be with someone they didn’t love too. And I know they will love Chloe.”

page 49

Quote #6

“It’s so easy to paint all the people you don’t want to accept with the same brush. That way you can tell yourself you’re just protecting your way of life and that they’re the ones encroaching upon your space.”

page 93

Quote #7

“I look at her and suddenly realize that she has little to no idea what I’m talking about. […] Chloe carries her white privilege with her wherever she goes, whether she’s aware of it or not. She can blend in completely whereas I will always be a clear target. And there are so many who’re looking to take a shot.”

page 122

Quote #8

Home. Such a loaded word. It’s strange to think that perhaps for my parents this has never really been home. Even though they chose to come here and built a good life, to them home will probably always mean Pakistan, where they grew up surrounded by my extended family and people who looked like them, where they didn’t have to explain their existence constantly. But to me, Corpus is home. It’s where all my memories were born even though I wasn’t.”

page 181

Quote #9

“Even though, on a basic level, I completely understand that my parents will always want to protect me, I’m angry that they want me to give up. But maybe I’m also angry because, on a deeper level, I know what they’re saying is true. Even if I somehow manage to stop two people, hundreds, maybe thousands, more will take their place. I see it every day, at school and online. The hatred is palpable, and people are no longer shy or reluctant to express their true feelings. Racists are becoming more emboldened every day, and it’s not just in Corpus Christi; it’s happening all over the country. But still, I’m determined to stay strong.”

page 217

Quote #10

“How do I deal with someone who’s convinced that his right to exist in this world trumps mine?”

page 228

Quote #11

“‘What kind of father lets his own child sacrifice her future for her parents?’ He looks at me, and there is so much pain in his eyes that I would do anything to make it go away.”

page 233

[Blog Tour] Review for Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

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.

Book Information:

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: YA Fiction

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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

Book Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Bookshop.org | Book Depository

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.

Author Links:
Twitter | Instagram | Website

Review for More to the Story by Hena Khan

I really enjoyed Hena Khan’s middle grade debut Amina’s Voice (review here), so I’m happy that Simon & Schuster offered me a copy of More to the Story to read and review.

More to the Story

Synopsis:

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…

My Review:

More to the Story is an endearing story about a Muslim Pakistani American girl, Jameela, who’s struggling to deal with several stressful changes and situations in her life. It touches on multiple themes and manages to balance a number of subplots well and resolve them with a pitch-perfect ending.

First among the issues touched on in the story is Jameela’s father leaving the family to work a job far away. Life as a middle schooler can be tough enough as it is without one of your parents being across the globe. Although modern technology allows long-distance communication, it’s definitely not the same as having your parent by your side on a day-to-day basis. I found this particular struggle of Jameela’s relatable because when I was a teen, my dad had to take a job that forced him to relocate over a thousand miles away, and I missed him terribly. Like Jameela, I have a close relationship with my dad, so I found their dynamic touching.

Another central theme in the story was sibling dynamics. Jameela is a middle child, with an older sister and two younger sisters. I’m also a middle child, with one older sister, and one younger sister. Her relationships with her siblings don’t look anything like mine, but it was still interesting to see how they played out. This story emphasized how, even if you envy them or find them annoying at times, your siblings are your family, and you can’t help but love and care about them.

The third theme I want to talk about is friendship. In the story, Jameela meets and befriends the nephew of a family friend, a British Pakistani boy named Ali who has just moved to the U.S. I liked the way their friendship was developed, with Ali gradually opening up to Jameela, who has a genuine desire to understand him better and help him with the troubles he’s dealing with on his own. I also appreciated the exploration of consent and boundaries and ethical journalism when Ali and his experiences became a tentative topic/subject for Jameela’s school newspaper article.

Next is the subplot on Bisma, Jameela’s younger sister, who develops a tumor. Cancer is terrifying. I know this firsthand from when my mom got leukemia. Despite the fear and uncertainty, Jameela is able to cope with support from her family and takes it upon herself to be as supportive of an older sister as possible. I was several years older than Jameela when my mom was diagnosed, but I found myself admiring and envying her bravery and resilience in the face of everything, and I really wanted to give her a hug to let her know she’s not alone in experiencing such a scary situation.

Another topic that came up in the story was anger management. Jameela is a passionate person who feels things intensely, and sometimes that manifests as anger, which can have destructive consequences. The story is explicit about addressing this issue, which made me appreciate it even more. I feel like if I’d had a book like this when I was younger, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with anger as a teen, something that definitely negatively impacted my relationships with my peers.

Last, but not least, I loved that this book showed a teen pursuing a creative passion and having it taken seriously. A lot of times people downplay kids’ hobbies and interests as things that are fleeting or pointless, so it was heartening to read a story where a young teen character does what she loves and is supported in that endeavor by her parents and other adults. It’s my hope that young readers of this book will feel encouraged follow their dreams, be it journalism or art or science, and carry their passion into the future with them.

All in all, this was a heartwarming read that’s perfect for anyone who loves stories about family, sisterhood, and love in all its manifestations.

Mini Reviews: 5 Muslim Reads

Life update and mini review series introduction: I have a full-time job right now, so writing 600+ word reviews for every book I read has become unsustainable. However, since I still want to share my thoughts on all the books I read, I’m compromising by doing mini reviews for most books and full reviews for a smaller fraction. This first set of mini reviews will focus on five books with Muslim characters that I’ve read recently. 🙂

the-gauntlet

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi – Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Bangladeshi American MC, #ownvoices

In The Gauntlet, Farah Mirza is forced to play a larger-than-life board game in order to save her younger brother from being taken by the game’s Architect. It is such a fun book that really engages the senses, especially sight, smell, and taste. Loaded with loving and vivid references to Bengali, desi, and Middle Eastern cultures, it’s an adventure that you can’t miss. As someone who loves games and puzzles, it was a treat to read about Farah’s three game trials, especially the one involving Mancala, which I played with my sisters when we were young. There were colorful characters and interesting twists and a setting that literally shifts and changes to keep me engaged and delighted throughout.

The Lines We Cross

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah (originally published as When Michael Met Mina in Australia) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Afghan-Australian MC

The Lines We Cross is a powerful story about racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. The main character, Mina, moves from a racially diverse, working-class part of the city to a wealthier, white-dominated area. There, she meets and goes to school with Michael, who is white and the son of a local conservative political organizer who is the head of an organization pushing a xenophobic and Islamophobic agenda. Despite their differences, the two are drawn to each other and find common ground, and Michael is forced to confront his own privilege and question his internalized biases. The reason this learning and redemption arc works is because Mina’s perspective is there to complement Michael’s, it’s not just centering Michael. Moreover, Mina actively calls out Michael’s ignorance and biases and refuses to perform the labor of educating him, so her purpose in the story is not to serve his character development.

Saints and Misfits

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali – Young Adult, Contemporary, Egyptian/Arab-Indian American MC, #ownvoices

Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault

Saints and Misfits is a gem of a story about a Muslim hijabi teen, Janna, who’s trying to navigate the confusing feelings of adolescence and deal with her traumatic experience of sexual assault by a supposedly upstanding member of her community. Her voice is refreshingly honest, snarky, and down-to-earth. I loved the different relationships explored in the story, from her family drama, to her friendships with people at school and at the Islamic Center, to her crush on Jeremy, to her mentor-mentee relationship with her imam. The supporting characters really rounded out the story, giving it depth and breadth. The topic of sexual assault was explored with sensitivity and grace, and I found it to be an empowering story for survivors and an honest commentary on how a community may fail its members.

Love, Hate & Other Filters.jpg

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed – Young Adult, Contemporary, Indian American MC, #ownvoices

Trigger Warnings: Islamophobia, physical assault

Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a powerful novel about intergenerational conflict and Islamophobia, how it feels to be caught in between others’ expectations and your own aspirations. Maya’s parents have a plan for her, and it doesn’t involve going to NYU to study film or dating someone who’s not her parents choice of pious Muslim boy, especially not a white boy like Phil. Because of these suffocating expectations, Maya lives a double life, applying to NYU and meeting Phil in secret, and it will break your heart to see her struggle. Parallel to the day-to-day events of Maya’s life, a terrorist plots to wreak havoc. When the attack occurs, the prime suspect shares Maya’s last name, so she gets targeted with vitriol and violence. This book is such an emotional rollercoaster, and the author doesn’t pull any punches. Maya’s fear and hope are tangible, and you feel the weight of her choices. I loved the juxtaposition of Maya’s first-person narrative with third-person snippets of people whose lives are affected by the terrorist attack. It heightened the tension of the story and connected the dots between seemingly unrelated people.

That Thing We Call a Heart

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim – Young Adult, Contemporary, Pakistani American MC, #ownvoices

That Thing We Call a Heart happens over the course of a summer, the summer before Shabnam goes off to college. She’s been estranged from her best friend Farah, so she finds companionship in a cute boy named Jamie, who lands her a job at his aunt’s pie shack. It’s hinted at in the synopsis, but Jamie is not that great of a guy, and he sort of fetishizes Shabnam, and through this experience Shabnam comes to learn what a bad relationship looks like and how infatuation can cloud your judgment. My favorite part of the story was her interactions with her parents, her best friend Farah, and her great-uncle who survived Partition. Her dad teaches her about Urdu poetry, which gives her a connection to her heritage and artistic inspiration. Her best friend Farah was by far my favorite character, defying stereotypes of hijabi girls by dyeing her hair and listening to punk music and not taking shit from anyone. Shabnam’s alienation from Farah is very much her own fault, and in the story, she has to work through the issues and make amends. The dynamic nature of their friendship felt realistic, and it resonated with me a lot as someone who’s gone through similar stages with my own best friend. Lastly, her relationship with her great-uncle felt really relatable to me as someone who doesn’t have very close relationships with people of my grandparents’ generation, who lived through two periods of colonization. Her uncle lived through a very horrifying and bloody chapter of history, and it’s hard to communicate and connect when you feel like there is so much you don’t know about someone and their history. Shabnam’s curiosity and weighty feelings and desire to learn more about that history mirrored my own with respect to 20th Century Taiwanese history.

Review for Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

aminas-voice

Note: This review is based on the eARC I received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Summary: Things are changing around Amina. Her best friend Soojin is getting friendly with one of the “cool” girls and preparing to change her name to something “American”-sounding. Her uncle is coming from Pakistan to visit, and she has to be the perfect daughter or risk making her parents look bad. Then there’s the Quran recitation competition she has to participate in against her wishes and the Winter Choral Concert she wants to sing in but can’t find the courage to sign up for. While Amina struggles to be true to herself, tragedy strikes and shakes her community to the core.

Review:

While this book is primarily a “window” book for me since I’m not familiar with Pakistani culture, in some ways it was also a “mirror” book because I saw pieces of myself and my experiences in not only Soojin, Amina’s Korean American friend (there are a lot of commonalities in how East Asian Americans navigate white-dominated spaces), but also Amina herself because she is a second generation child of immigrant parents.

Both Amina and Soojin experience a variety of racist microaggressions from their white peers, from food-related taunts to language-related stigmas. Prominent among these is the butchering of their names, something that I’m intimately familiar with. Soojin, who moved to the U.S. as a toddler and is about to become a citizen, plans to change her name to something that white Americans can easily pronounce. I had a period where I considered changing my name, so I empathized with her situation, though hindsight makes me glad I didn’t go through with such a change. Amina feels off about this decision because she thinks Soojin’s name is fine as it is, so she does what she can to communicate this validation to Soojin. This was very heartening to read, knowing how strong the pressure to assimilate into the white mainstream can be and how vulnerable kids like Soojin are to these pressures.

In general, the friendship between Amina and Soojin was a highlight of the story. Two Asian Americans sticking by each other is realistic and an important kind of solidarity to represent. On top of that, the story explores how friendships change over time as new people enter your friend circles. In this case, the “interloper” is a white girl named Emily, who Amina doesn’t fully trust because of her history of perpetrating of some of the microaggressions I mentioned before. The distrust is mixed with feelings of jealousy and abandonment, and those feelings are addressed in a constructive way as the story progresses.

Another positive aspect of the story is Amina’s relationships with her various family members. Her older brother has his own character arc and development as he joins the basketball team at his high school and deals with both parental pressure and peer pressure. Amina may not fully understand her brother, but she is supportive of him and stands up for him to their parents when they are being hard on him over his grades (which is something I will never get tired of seeing portrayed in fiction because seriously, grades aren’t everything).

Amina’s relationship with her parents is also a loving and supportive one. They may be somewhat strict, but they are not unfair or uncaring. To the contrary, her parents encourage her, guide her through her problems, and keep her connected to her culture, heritage, and religion.

Her relationship with her uncle who’s visiting from Pakistan is a bit more complicated but dynamic. Her uncle is more traditional and conservative than her parents, so she has doubts about him liking her since she is Americanized in many ways. He becomes her tutor for reciting and learning Arabic from the Quran, and although she feels inadequate and self-conscious at first, she eventually begins to treat him more like a genuine mentor, developing a bond with him that also brings her closer to her faith.

One of my favorite things about this book was the depictions of everyday life at Sunday school and the Islamic Center. It’s such a lovely space that’s community-oriented and celebrates Islamic history and cultures with its displays and decorations. Everyone knows everyone else, and there are annual traditions and festivals that bring people together. You can tell that Amina feels very at home there. As I was reading about it, I couldn’t help but think of the Taiwanese Community Center that my family frequents on the weekends because of the similarities in layout and the feeling of comfort and familiarity it evokes for me. Since the story builds up this atmosphere of home around the mosque and the Center, the subsequent vandalism left a deep impact on me. The trauma of loss weighed on me as if it were real, as if I were Amina witnessing the events. Thankfully, the aftermath of this dark event lifts you back up with hopeful messages.

The title of this book, Amina’s Voice, has both literal and figurative meanings. The more literal interpretation is linked to Amina’s love of music and singing. She is talented but has stage fright and struggles to sing or otherwise perform in front of an audience. The more figurative meaning is about her coming to terms with herself and her identity and being comfortable with who she is. These two themes and struggles are intertwined and resolved over the course of the story in an empowering way. The ending was perfect (in my opinion).

Recommendation: Highly recommended! A heartfelt story about friendship, family, and community.

Review for God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen

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Note: I received a review copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Note 2: I interviewed the author a few weeks ago, so I highly recommend reading the interview. 😀

My Summary: Against her parents’ desires, Asiya Haque goes for a walk alone in the woods with her crush, Michael, but what could have been a romantic getaway turns into something else completely when they come across a dead body. Asiya flees the scene at Michael’s behest, and then Michael goes missing himself and is accused of being the murderer. Asiya finds herself digging up clues to a murder mystery, a search that is not at all helped by a overly smug police officer who needs serious sensitivity training or her overly protective parents.

Review:

I went in with high expectations for this book, and by and large, it did not disappoint.

The decision to make this a first-person narrative was absolutely perfect. Asiya has a very distinctive character voice that made her so real to me. Her internal world is rich and complex and compelling. On top of that, she is downright hilarious. I lost count of the number of times that I busted out laughing because of something she said aloud or in her head. And though she’s not perfect, she does have a sense of justice and tries to do the best thing.

Asiya’s narration also brought to the fore an insider’s perspective on Islam. There are the congregations at her masjid, where you get to follow along with the communal prayers and witness the true foundations and tenets of the religion: peace, generosity, empathy, etc. There are also the interactions between Asiya and individual Muslims in her life. And of course, the internal dialogue she has with God as she faces her troubles.

From these passages, it’s clear that Asiya has an intimate relationship with her faith and God, but it’s complicated by other people’s cultural and individual biases that favor certain interpretations of God’s word. Through Asiya, her family, and her fellow Muslim community members, the author shows how Muslims are not a monolith. Even Asiya’s parents interpret certain lines from the Quran differently from one another and from their imam.*

Speaking of the parents, I really liked the way Asiya’s relationships with her parents was developed. Although they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, they do care for one another and stand up for one another when it counts. Her parents were flawed but sympathetic characters, giving the scenes of family tension emotional weight because they’re more complicated than one side being right and the other wrong. I really loved her relationship with her father, who clearly has a soft spot for her. I have a similar relationship with my dad, and I wish there were more representations of such relationships when it comes to Asian dads in diaspora, who tend to be stereotyped as distant or controlling.

Asiya’s relationship with her younger brother was also a surprising positive. Although he definitely has his annoying brother moments, he still respects her, and Asiya in turn stands up for him when their parents disparage him over his academic performance. She’s the one to validate him and what he brings to the table in terms of talents and skills. This is so important in an Asian diaspora narrative because I think second generation kids internalize so many toxic beliefs about the value of grades, where we’re not just being encouraged to succeed in our education but are punished for every mistake made, to the point where we feel like we’re never good enough because of some numbers and letters.

There were a lot of little moments like this, little critiques of the harmful norms and practices around Asiya, including Islamophobia, body-shaming, and even the theft of indigenous children by the government. It was like an Easter Egg hunt for little nuggets of Keeping It Real.

The mystery elements didn’t take a backseat to all of this, of course. Between the different competing murder suspects and the obstacles to Asiya’s attempts at investigating, there was plenty of suspense to go around. The clues were laid out very cleverly to spring one on the reader when the dots are connected to reveal the whole picture. Maybe I’m not that great at piecing things together, but I definitely did not expect the answer to the whodunnit question.

And then at the end of the book, I got a cliffhanger that just ruined me. I’m eagerly anticipating the second book, Mutaweenies and Other Muslim Girl Problems!

For problematic content, I did notice issues with how Nate was portrayed with respect to his supposed OCD, which I wasn’t sure was intended to be clinical OCD/OCPD or just a personality thing that was described hyperbolically as OCD. However, I saw from Glaiza’s review that this part was edited out of the final edition, so that shouldn’t be an issue for most of you.

That issue aside, there were four other things. First was a place where Asiya’s remarks about Michael were heteronormative and exclusionary toward asexual people regarding his assumed sexual history. Second was the use of “opposite sex,” which excludes non-binary people. The third issue I picked up on was when Asiya said she heard a “male voice,” even though you can’t and shouldn’t assume someone’s gender based on how they sound. Better wording would have been to describe the pitch and texture of the voice without automatically gendering it as male or female. The last was the labeling of the culprit as “crazy,” which I found to be disappointing because there are ways to express that someone is terrible without stigmatizing mental illness.

*If you’d like to read some #ownvoices reviews from Muslim readers, here are a few:

Saadia Faruqi | Ayah Assem | Ruzaika Deen

Recommendation: Recommended for those looking for a good mystery that’s equal parts funny, heartfelt, and suspenseful.

Author Interview: Ishara Deen

Hi, everyone! This is my first time hosting an interview on my blog. For this super special, very first interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing indie-published author Ishara Deen. Her debut novel, God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems, releases today, January 15th!

Before we get to the interview, let’s take a look at the book cover:

god-smites-and-other-muslim-girl-problems

Wow. I really love this cover! It features a brown girl front and not-quite-center, looking confident and poised to kick ass. The font has a nice and casual vibe, and I’m partial to the background because purple is my favorite color.

Now, for the cover blurb/synopsis:

LIKE NANCY DREW, BUT NOT…

Craving a taste of teenage life, Asiya Haque defies her parents to go for a walk (really, it was just a walk!) in the woods with Michael, her kind-of-friend/crush/the guy with the sweetest smile she’s ever seen. Her tiny transgression goes completely off track when they stumble on a dead body. Michael covers for Asiya, then goes missing himself.

Despite what the police say, Asiya is almost sure Michael is innocent. But how will she, the sheltered girl with the strictest parents ever, prove anything? With Michael gone, a rabid police officer in desperate need of some sensitivity training, and the murderer out there, how much will Asiya risk to do what she believes is right?

And a brief description from the author herself:

God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems features Asiya Haque, a Bengali Canadian teen, who is finding her strength and feminism while making her religion her own. The story showcases meaningful friendships, a confusing crush, heavy family drama and unexpected humour through a cozy mystery.

I don’t know about y’all, but between the cover and the descriptions, I’m hooked! I have my copy of the book already, courtesy of Ishara herself, and I can’t wait to read it and share my thoughts on it. Hopefully you’re curious and want to learn a bit more about the author and writing process for this book because here we go with the interview!

(Note: SW stands for Shenwei, a.k.a Me, ID is for Ishara Deen. My comments and questions are in bold font.)

SW: Every author has a story, a progression of events that eventually leads to them becoming an author, even if there are major detours along the way. What’s your story?

ID: I’ve heard a lot of authors say they write the characters they wish they grew up seeing in books. I wish I’d been that smart! I grew up playing with blonde, blue-eyed Barbies and reading Sweet Valley Twins, not noticing that something was missing there. Instead my brown-skinned self, who grew up poor (relative to Canadian standards), obese, and hijabi, went through too much of life thinking something wasn’t up to par with me.

I guess that makes sense why I’ve been writing for years, but watering down my work so that an assumed audience whose lives were more like Elizabeth and Jessica’s could understand or relate. Thankfully, each draft I wrote let me see the imaginary audiences I was writing for and edit them out so that the isolated teens who matter to me could take priority. Writing was a thing I’ve always done – it builds me as a person. Becoming an author, particularly of a series of books, is about sharing the beauty of rewriting. I want teens to know that no matter where you’re at, you can edit, clarify and construct until you’re the person you want to be.

SW: That reminds me of my own experiences with writing. I wrote a lot of characters who weren’t like me until gradually I worked my way toward writing about characters who shared my identity and experiences, the many intersecting ones I have.

In the description you gave me, you said your book tackles issues such as “religion, Islamophobia, abuse, (white) feminism, (internalized) misogyny, and the weight of being a minority within a minority group.” Did you find it difficult to incorporate all of these issues and balance them in your story? Or did they come naturally as you wrote?

ID: Writing about all of those things would have been easy, had I stopped caring so much about what others would think –as if they were the true judges of an experience they hadn’t lived!

I was so affected by the pressure, I almost didn’t publish. I had set a December release date and after the US election, I felt like it was necessary to double up on critique of Islamophobia and delay my release indefinitely because of the critique of things within the Muslim community.

Two things changed my mind. First: reindeer dick. I saw a book about a Reindeer-shifting romance. I’m going to clarify here that I’m not critiquing people’s personal fantasies –the world is hard, I totally support people getting happy. But I am critiquing that white women are free to write mothers like the one in White Oleander and fantasies about reindeer-shifters without having all white women labelled as abusive, reindeer-dick lovers. It had me wondering: why did I as a Muslim author feel responsible for those who would twist my story into “See! All Muslims are misogynists”?

Second, a small voice reminded me that increased Islamophobia didn’t mean decreased harm from white feminism or internalized misogyny. #Ownvoices authors have a right to critique and demand improvement in their communities. Writing that kind of critique is both natural and difficult, but as an author that’s what I will continue to do.  

SW: Well, I’m very glad that you decided to go through with publishing your book. In these times, voices like yours are more important than ever. Hopefully your example will inspire others to speak up. Which leads me to the next question…

Are there any authors who have inspired you a lot? If so, tell us a few.

ID: So, that part where I talked about blindly reading what’s out there and not questioning? Yeah, I read “mainstream” for too long. I’ll always have a soft spot for Nancy Drew. In romance, I loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips (even when I had to mentally edit out problematic content). Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries were great up to a point.

For a long time, I gave up on traditional publishing houses to produce what I was looking for and read only indie books. I was happy to read widely, if it meant that I’d find authors like Mariana Zapata and Nyrae Dawn. I love when authors can address tough issues but write feel-good, inspiring reads.

*trigger warning: homophobic (past) thoughts

One book that stood out for me was Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused. This was where I finally saw some of myself reflected and learned much more. I had this horrible notion growing up, that being gay couldn’t be real because more people across many backgrounds would be gay if it were true. Unfortunately, the extent of representation I had of the LGBTQ community was as the butt of jokes in movies and they were always presented as a tiny minority of white people. That made the limiting and harmful societal and religious beliefs I was taught so much easier to absorb. Born Confused showed me that the intersection between being a woman of colour and being lesbian existed. I don’t think I understood back when I read it, how much of a shift in my thinking that representation made possible. Even thinking on it now is inspiring me to address a lot more than I’ve had the courage to in my first book.

SW: Ah, now I have two more authors to look up! I am also bumping up Born Confused on my TBR list, where it has been languishing since I found it in the early days of my quest to read more diversely.

Speaking of diversity, in the past two or so years, there has been a strong call for diversity in young people’s literature. Has that movement affected how you approach writing?

ID: I love seeing how activists, academics, bloggers, reviewers, and everyday people are forcing the industry to recognize the importance of representation, especially for young people. It’s hard enough to write while holding out for the bleak hope that I’d be one of the very few women of colour that publishers decided to take on. In order to free myself from that pressure, years back I’d made the decision that when I publish, I would do it indie.

Maybe I’m a little too Type-A, but nothing has changed for me. I didn’t pitch a single agent or query any publishers. I’ve seen the Lee & Low survey on Diversity in Publishing and I’d worry about giving up editorial control where the majority of people don’t understand the experience in the story. I’d wonder if an industry – where Marketing & Publicity departments average at 77% White/Caucasian – would understand the importance of featuring a brown-skinned teen prominently on the cover. I’d outright throw a fit if their cover designers tried to bleach out the beautifully brown skin of my main character. I get that there are people outside and inside the industry who are fighting to make a difference – their work is essential and is making many worlds of difference, now and for the future. But I like that there are other options too. And for now, I need to be in charge of the details, right down to the exact CMYK colours.

Yup. I’m definitely Type-A.

SW: I totally relate to those worries, as they are thoughts I’ve had myself while thinking about getting published. In fact, anxiety about not being able to find acceptance in the mainstream publishing industry has pushed me to consider indie or self-publishing on more than one occasion. What advice would you give aspiring authors who are considering self-publishing or indie publishing?

ID: Do it! But only if you are okay with being responsible for the whole writing process, coming up with business and marketing plans, taking charge of all design and layout, learning how and where to publish, finding the right help, and a handful of other things.

I can’t pretend that the indie process is easy and I won’t lie, I have doubts that what I produced is good enough. At the same time, I don’t think anyone is claiming that the gatekeeping days of the publishing industry is over. And we’ve all seen the repeated publishing fails in the industry (seriously with the Nazi romances?). Publishers aren’t written off for their failures, indies shouldn’t be either.

My advice is this: If you don’t need the prestige of being traditionally published, if you know you write well but your topics are too far outside what the mainstream can handle, if you can hold on to the idea that indie-publishing royalties can be substantially higher if you work hard enough at making book sales, if you are willing to take your story and make it as good or better than traditional publishers could possibly make it – then I invite you to consider, someone has to be producing fabulously diverse literature. Why not you?

SW: That’s a very encouraging statement. Thank you very much!

Because the industry is the way it is, one of the common experiences that marginalized people have is that search for representation, for characters who are like us. Do you have any book recommendations for characters with similar experiences to your own?

ID: I would recommend Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Does My Head Look Big in This? for people looking for a funny, sweet read about a Muslim teen. I already mentioned how great I think Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused is for South Asian readers and others. And despite the main character being a half Mexican, half Argentinian, all-star athlete, I loved Mariana Zapata’s Kulti for its humour and inspirational main character, but also because I could relate so well to the depiction of what it’s like being the child of immigrants.

SW: Thanks for the recs. I’ve actually read Does My Head Look Big in This? myself, and I’m seconding that rec. (Readers: You can find my review of the book here.)

In relation to the previous question: Despite the recent increase in diversity in publishing, there are still many experiences that have not been represented. What kinds of stories are you still waiting for?

ID: I don’t consider myself well-read enough to comment on what’s missing, but what I haven’t seen a lot of in genre fiction is enough humanizing representations of people of colour who live below the poverty line. I want to see something beyond the tropes. Probably because I can’t figure out how to write poverty with a sense of agency, I’m hungry for recommendations on any books that can. If you know some, send them my way?

SW: Oh yes, that is definitely a gap I’ve noticed, especially as far as Asians in diaspora go. The model minority myth says we’re all successful and socioeconomically well-off, but that’s definitely not the case all across the board, especially when you disaggregate by ethnicity. One of the books that I’ve read recently that addresses class divisions and working-class POC is Alice Pung’s Lucy and Linh (originally published under the title Laurinda, in Australia), which focuses on a Chinese-Vietnamese Australian teen from an lower-class background. I wrote a review for it here. If anyone among my followers has additional recs, feel free to send them my way (leave a comment) and to Ishara (via the links at the bottom of this post)!

And that concludes the interview! Thank you for taking the time to compose such thorough and thoughtful responses. Once I post my review of your book, I will put the link on Twitter and @ you so you can share it. 🙂


Ishara Deen, author of God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems, is also a copywriter and grad-school dropout. She did finish a Master’s degree in World Lit, but still prefers a good mystery, fantasy, or romance over “literature.” She’s a hobby-collecting nerd, the latest of which are archery and bass guitar, and her goal in life is to write and publish what scares her, because it’s likely to scare the people that put that fear in her even more.

You can add God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems on Goodreads!

For future book releases, excerpts from upcoming books, and fun extras, sign up for the Muslim Girl Problems newsletter at www.isharadeen.com. You can also find purchase links for God Smites on the website.

Connect with Ishara Deen!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/isharadeen
Twitter: @isharadeen
Email: hello@isharadeen.com

Last, but not least, spread the word about this book! It’s a great addition for the #MuslimShelfSpace project that’s happening on Twitter right now!

Review for Ticket to India by N.H. Senzai

ticket-to-india

My Summary: Maya flies from the U.S. to Pakistan to attend the funeral for her grandfather. There, she finds out that her family has roots in India through her grandmother, who moved to Pakistan after Partition. In order to complete her grandfather’s final rites, her grandmother wishes to seek out an old family heirloom that was left behind in India. Maya sets off for India with her grandmother and older sister to hunt for this family treasure in a race against time, but unexpected complications result in her tackling the search completely on her own.

My Review:

N.H. Senzai became one of my favorite middle grade writers last year after I read Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner. Having written two books that focused on her husband’s Afghan American heritage, she decided to write one based on her own as an Indian and Pakistani American.

Ticket to India is many things at once. It’s a whirlwind tour of India (both the beautiful and the ugly), brought to life through vivid descriptions. The story cleverly incorporates landmarks into the plot: Maya’s grandmother  uses them to remember the location of her old home and the location of the family treasure. The perspective through which we see these landmarks is different from that of a regular tourist, however, because even as these sights are new to Maya, they are also in a way familiar to her, echoing the landscape of Pakistan.

Other facts are included in the story through the use of epistolary format. Part of the story is excerpts from Maya’s journal for a school assignment. Since she is writing with her teacher as an audience, she lists various facts about Pakistan and India, among other things, thus supplying some of the background for the story. It takes the place of an unnecessary info-dump in the middle of action or dialogue.

Although some neutral facts are stated, the book doesn’t shy away from critiques of British imperialism in the past and rampant political corruption and religious conflict in the present. These views are communicated through Maya’s interactions with various adults as well as her observations of various situations.

Aside from being informative, the book is also a suspenseful adventure. Maya faces many obstacles and setbacks as she makes her way across India. She meets both people who show her kindness and help her and people who have malicious intentions. She also meets people with good intentions who still make her journey difficult because they have their own ideas of where she should go. I was on the edge of my seat wondering whether she’d make it out of trouble spots in one piece and ultimately succeed in her quest.

The book is also about sibling relationships. Maya’s older sister tends to outshine and overshadow her. She’s more assertive and kind of a know-it-all. However, their unintended separation gives Maya a chance to come into herself and develop a sense of independence.

Like Shooting Kabul, Ticket to India tackles complex political issues, this time concerning the Partition of the Indian subcontinent and its continuing aftereffects. Aside from Maya and Zahra’s sisterhood, there is also the “sibling relationship” between India and Pakistan. They share many things, including a common history up until Partition. However, there is also conflict as only siblings can wage against one another, intimate and painful.

The author takes a hopeful and optimistic approach to the question of the two countries’ futures. The similarities between India and Pakistan are emphasized over the differences. Moreover, by making Maya the viewpoint character, she breaks down the idea of India and Pakistan as being in binary opposition to one another. Like the author herself, Maya is both Pakistani and Indian, not just one or the other, and the conflict is not a zero-sum game.

Recommendation: Highly recommended. This book is both entertaining and thought-provoking, a great middle grade cross-country adventure!