fiction · YA

All-American Muslim Girl- Nadine Jolie Courtney

I usually remember the process by which a book ends up on my TBR. I may not remember which friend recommended a book to me, but I’ll remember it was recommended by a friend. I may not remember which blog I saw that book on, but I know a fellow book blogger raved about it. But for the life of me, I can’t remember where I first learned about All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), only that it went immediately onto my TBR. And that was absolutely the right action to take, because this book was ah-maaaaaaaaaa-zing.

Allie Abraham is Muslim, nominally. Her family- Dad was born Muslim, Mom converted- doesn’t pray, doesn’t attend mosque, doesn’t fast for Ramadan. Dad, a native speaker, never taught Allie Arabic or the Circassian language, and has always tried to downplay his religion and heritage. Allie’s pale skin and lighter hair don’t necessarily clue people in to her heritage either, and thus, not only does she feel out of place amongst her more devout extended family, she’s also the dumping ground for anti-Muslim bigotry that non-Muslims dump on her when they think they’re in good company. As a result, Allie has spent her life hiding who she really is, never truly comfortable with her background, becoming a different person each time her family moves for her father’s work.

This new town in Georgia, however, feels different. It’s meant to be permanent, and Allie almost immediately catches the eye of Wells, a supercute guy in her grade. Their attraction is mutual, but there’s one major catch: Wells’s father, a majorly conservative TV host who spreads Islamophobia, amongst other horrors, on his TV show. Allie could go on hiding who she is, just as she’s always done, but she’s increasingly drawn to Islam, its practice and its meaning, in a way she’s never been before. Via study and her new involvement with her school’s Muslim Student Association, Allie’s discovering things that speak to her soul and help her define who she truly is…but how will her father, who has always subtly encouraged her to pass as non-Muslim, react?

Ohhhhhh, how I loved this book. In Allie, Ms. Courtney has given us an Every Girl, a teenager used to changing her image to fit in like so many teenagers do, unsure of who she really is and who she wants to be. YA novels with strong teen characters who know exactly who they are are so necessary (and there are so many great examples of those out there!), but characters who are searching for identity and a sense of self reflect the experience of the majority of adolescents, and Allie’s character arc throughout the novel is a beautiful one of growth, in tentative baby steps, trying out what works for her and working up the courage to present that part of herself to the world (a world that isn’t always friendly and is often downright hostile to those parts). While her religious journey may not be something every reader can identify with, her search for identity is, and Ms. Courtney has created a sympathetic and sharply intelligent character who will have readers cheering through her bravery and triumphs, and rooting for her in her pursuit of identity.

A very basic understanding of Islam would be helpful in reading this book, but as Allie is learning as she goes (even buying and hiding a Qu’ran from her parents! The irony of a teenager sneaking religion, of all things, along with Arabic language lessons, was…I don’t want to say humorous, but given all the things she could have been hiding in her bedside table, well…), the reader should be able to learn right along with her. Allie’s entire extended family is warm, inviting, and deeply supportive, and should have any reader wistful for such a welcoming group. I also enjoyed the trajectory of her friendship with the girls from her Qu’ran study group. While they often disagree with each other on different issues (dating and relationships, how to best practice Islam, etc), there’s room for disagreement within their friendships while still remaining close and having each others’ backs.

Allie’s relationship with Wells is very sweet and mature without seeming forced. Wells is nothing like his father, and their relationship seems strained at best, as does his parents’ marriage. He’s an easy character to feel sympathy for, even when his and Allie’s relationship isn’t quite going the way they had hoped (that’s not a spoiler; teenage relationships have their ups and downs, as we all know!). He’s kind and supportive and a great match for Allie.

Content warnings exist for Islamophobia and religious bigotry and hatred, microaggressions, on-page panic attacks, on-page death of a family member, and strained parent-child relationships. Nothing is graphic.

There’s so much good in this novel. I’d never heard of the Circassian people before and Ms. Courtney has helped to begin filling in that gap in my knowledge. Her voice is so natural and so readable, even during the more tense scenes (such as between Allie and Wells’s father, or Allie and her own father during their confrontations over religion), that her novel of growth and identity is an absolute page turner. If you’re looking for a lovely novel on the intersection of family, faith, and identity, All-American Muslim Girl needs a place on your TBR list.

Visit Nadine Jolie Courtney’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS- Azadeh Moaveni

You ever go into a book thinking you’re getting one thing and then you wind up with another thing entirely? It’s kind of like ordering a pizza, but when the deliveryman knocks at your door, instead of a large with extra cheese, you get a platter of oysters. Now, plenty of people enjoy oysters; they’re served at some of the finest restaurants in the world, but when you were expecting a hot, gooey, cheese-covered pizza, that oyster platter may leave you puzzled.

That’s how I felt about Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis by Azadeh Moaveni (Random House, 2019). With a title like that, I was very much expecting the book to be focused entirely on the women of ISIS. What inspired them to travel to Syria, what their lives were like before they arrived and after, what kept them there and what made them leave (if they could or did). And while Ms. Moaveni does include these stories, they’re more like brief interludes into the story of the conflict of Syria and the creation of ISIS. It’s a complex story, to be sure, and this book is very well-written; I would expect nothing less from Ms. Moaveni, who is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. But the text of the book is overwhelmingly about the conflict itself; the stories of the women are briefly wedged into a larger narrative about the war in Syria. Some chapters have a few paragraphs about a woman’s story or her situation, and the rest follows the story of the war.

I kept waiting for the focus to be more on the women, and in the last twenty pages or so, it finally turns that way, only to introduce women not mentioned at all through the rest of the book. I’d really been hoping to get a better, deeper look into the mindset and daily life of these women who left behind fairly normal lives (albeit some poverty-stricken, others depressing), often in Western countries, to join ISIS, and while the brief pictures painted show bleak ones, I was expecting quite a different book based on the title and the blurb. So while this is absolutely a masterful piece of writing, it wasn’t at allwhat I expected it to be.

One thing that really stood out in the book was the story of the British teenagers (known as the Bethnal Green trio) that ran away from home to Syria, in order to become ISIS brides. The police knew they were trying to leave beforehand, but didn’t inform the girls’ parents. Related incidents at school also weren’t mentioned to the families. The parents had no idea of the girls’ plans; they were all good students with no issues at school, and religious parents generally don’t think to question increased piety and modesty in their children. How three fifteen year-olds were able to purchase plane tickets and get on planes, unaccompanied, and fly to foreign countries is beyond me. It seemed like there were a lot of times the story could have been stopped before it started, but too many people dropped the ball.

That said, these girls were fifteen when they left. Not legal adults, below the age of consent, at the age where society knows they’re still apt to make terrible, illogical decisions, and there’s some scary vitriol thrown their way by certain commentators, calling the girls ‘whores’ and demanding that any attempts by the government to return the girls to their parents (the police and the government didn’t seem to be doing much, if anything) be dropped. I’m by no means excusing their actions; leaving their families to join ISIS is obviously deeply horrifying, with terrible consequences for them (two of the girls are dead; one has watched all three of her children, which she gave birth to by the age of nineteen, die) and for the world. But I’m also far more reluctant to call fifteen year old girls whores and throw their entire lives out like trash than others, apparently. I hadn’t heard of these girls before this book, so this particular story was an eye-opener.

So tell me, dear readers: have you had this happen before, that a book turns out to be quite different from what the back cover or inside flap portrays it as? I’m pretty sure this has happened to me in the past, though not anytime recently. The reviews for this book on Goodreads are quite high, and I almost feel like I’m missing something, because my takeaways are so different from everyone else…

Visit Azadeh Moaveni’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Love From A to Z- S.K. Ali

Look what was FINALLY in at the library, you guys! I could have put it on hold, but I had plenty of other books to read in the meantime, but finally, FINALLY I went and Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads, 2019) was on the shelf! SQUEEEEEEEEE!!! I really enjoyed her Saints and Misfits this summer and was really looking forward to reading this one. The two books are quite different, but Love From A to Z didn’t disappoint one bit.

Zayneb is headed to Qatar to spend time with her aunt after being suspended from school after an incident with a racist, bigoted teacher. Adam is heading home to Qatar after leaving university, a fresh diagnosis of multiple sclerosis- the disease that killed his mother- taking up the majority of the real estate in his brain. Their brief encounter in the airport and on the airplane sets the tone for what becomes a friendship, because- surprise!- Adam’s family and Zayneb’s aunt know each other. It really is a small world.

Things are always more complicated than they seem, though. Adam’s terrified to tell his still-grieving father and adoring younger sister about his diagnosis, and his condition seems to be worsening. Zayneb is struggling to deal with the fallout of the racism and bigotry she left behind at home (and which seems to have followed her to Qatar as well). Both of them are trying to appreciate the marvels and oddities of life, while learning how to be honest with their parents and with each other, and taking life one step at a time.

(Content warnings for Islamaphobia, racism, bigotry, microaggressions, death of a parent, chronic illness, death of a grandparent, a few mentions of some grisly world events, and grief.)

This? Is a lovely, lovely book. Entirely heartfelt, with characters who seem so very real. Adam is sweet, charming, and grappling with what his diagnosis will mean for his family and for his future. He so badly wants to protect his sister and father from more pain and hates that he can’t. Zayneb is angry at the unfairness of her hideous teacher (who really is a jerk) and hates how powerless she feels, but along with her friends back home, she’s working to take back some of that power. She’s also exploring new aspects of her personality with the new friends she meets in Qatar, while still remaining entirely dedicated to her Muslim faith (her “Of course not, scarf for life” quip made me grin).

This book is representation to the max for Muslim readers, which I love, both for Muslim readers and for readers like me who get to learn and see Muslim characters as the heroes. (And sometimes cringe heavily at the racism, bigotry, and cringeworthy questions, comments, and microaggressions directed their way. There’s a scene where Zayneb wraps her childhood baby blanket around her when she’s sad over the loss of her grandmother and is answering the door with no time to ‘scarf up,’ as she puts it, and a non-Muslim character asks if that was something she had to wear when people die, ostensibly for religious reasons. *cringe* It’s better to ask than to assume, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to learn as much as I can in order to not necessarily be asking questions…like that one.) Qatar is a fascinating place to set a novel and I loved being able to see it through the eyes of two teenagers.

I got to thinking as I was reading the novel… Zayneb and Adam are both religious and very dedicated to their shared Muslim faith (Adam’s father converted when he was young, and Adam eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, which gave the novel a really interesting perspective), but this novel absolutely shines in ways that the Christian fiction I’ve read (most of it, anyway) hasn’t, and I’ve been pondering why these two types of novels, where faith is a major player, feel so different. In Ali’s novels, there’s no proselytizing; there’s no shaming for lower or different levels of observance. Faith is up to each character personally and is portrayed as their own private journey and not something that their neighbor is watching in on, ready to pounce and point them back to the right path. There’s no overall message of having to be or do or believe in a certain way; faith just is, but isn’t pushed. This is fiction where the characters are religious, but whose author has no religious agenda and that’s something I appreciated. It’s been a few years since I’ve read any Christian fiction (Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker was pretty good and, from what I remember, is a good example of Christian fiction that isn’t at all pushy in its message), so maybe the genre has changed since then? Love From A to Z felt like a breath of fresh air in that regard, though, and it’s something I’m still considering.

S.K. Ali goes onto my list of authors I’ll automatically read, and I’m very much looking forward to whatever it is she puts out next. Her characters are vibrant, and she makes them come alive, flaws and all. She’s such an exciting voice in YA fiction and I’m absolutely hooked on her writing.

Today only- that’s December 12, 2019- this book is available FOR FREE on RivetedLit.com, so what are you waiting for? GO GET IT!!!!!!!!!

Visit S.K. Ali’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Saints and Misfits- S.K. Ali

Another book from my TBR! (I know, I know I’ll never tackle it completely, but at least I have a GOAL, right???) I managed to grab a copy of this right after my son went back to school- I live in a really amazing area (I know I say this a lot, but I really do love it here), and Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017) was on several school summer reading lists here, so every time I looked for it at the library during the summer, it was checked out. But when the kids went back to school, BAM- there it was on the shelf and I snatched it up like a ravenous seagull who has spotted a French fry in a McDonald’s parking lot.

This isn’t the easiest book for which to write a synopsis, so this will look a little different than my usual reviews. Bear with me here, because this book is SO. WORTH. IT.

Janna, a young hijabi, is struggling. Struggling with her parents’ divorce, struggling with her brother moving back home and taking over her room (forcing her to bunk with Mom), struggling with her brother’s Little Miss Perfect possible-future-wife, struggling with a crush on a non-Muslim boy, struggling to remain true to her convictions even when it’s hard, and most of all, struggling with having been sexually assaulted by a Muslim boy that everyone thinks is the most pious member of her community. To say that her plate is full is the understatement of the century.

The story centers around Janna navigating her school year, attempting to manage all these different parts of her life, with the assault and the young man who committed it looming largest over all the others. Janna’s identity as a Muslim is strong; though she sometimes makes decisions she later regrets in regards to her hijab and her crush on Jeremy, it’s her faith in herself, her confidence that her truth will be listened to and taken seriously by her own community where her crisis lies. When everyone loves the person who harmed you, whom can you tell? I think we’ve all seen in news stories these past few years that far too many people are willing to wave away any evidence, no matter how damning, when a woman comes forward about being sexually assaulted, and Janna’s fears here are both troubling and all too real.

I love-love-LOVED Janna as a character. She’s absolutely not perfect, and I was so able to relate to her- if we’re being honest with ourselves, I think most people will be able to. We’ve all made decisions that go against what we believe; sometimes, we later realize we were wrong in those decisions, and other times, we learn that we need to redefine what we believe because it no longer fits who we are, but we’ve all been Janna. What made me want to scoop her up and hug her forever, though, was the paragraph where she stated that she would rather suffer in silence than have people blame her community because of her assault. I can’t speak from personal experience here, but I know it’s not easy being a member of a community that far too many people (people who have zero personal experience with Muslims and who have even less knowledge of Muslims or of Islam itself) mindlessly vilify, and while I understand and applaud Janna’s need to uphold and protect her community in that way, it broke my heart that she understood that pressure well enough to name it, and it furthered my commitment to help make this world more accepting and loving for anyone who has ever found themselves on the outside. A teenager who’s suffering but who understands that her community doesn’t need more bad press- the sheer reality of this is so heavy. We’ve got to do better.

I’ve got to do better.

I loved Ms. Ali’s portrayal of Janna’s Muslim community- the fun, the warmth, the activities, the varying degrees of practice and piety, it all felt so very alive and real. The way Janna’s non-Muslim best friend Tatyana fit right in in mosque activities was so sweet, and I adored Sausun (who works up to wearing niqab, the full face covering) and her brash personality- I learned SO much from her. She’s such an empowered character, and I loved how much she made Janna think. She made me think, too, and those are the kinds of books I LOVE.

This is a seriously important book- because of the Muslim author, because it features a teenage Muslim girl who wears hijab as a main character, because it centers around a Muslim community, because Janna is every teenager who has ever struggled with family, friends, and crushes, because it covers sexual assault (I wish so hard I could introduce Janna to Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; they would understand each other and could help each other heal), because of all these reasons and more. Nothing I say could possibly do this jewel of a book proper justice, because its truths and beauties run so very deep.

If you’ve made it this far, there are obvious content warnings for sexual assault; Janna has flashbacks throughout the story and is most likely suffering from PTSD related to the assault. There are also constant microaggressions (her gym teacher insisting on calling her hijab a hajeeb no matter how many times she was corrected drove me NUTS; it’s so disrespectful and I’m so, so sorry that anyone has to put up with crap like that); if these things are too much for you, wait for a better time to read it and be kind to yourself. If you’re able to handle these subject matters, this is an utterly amazing book that will allow you to see the world maybe a little differently than you’re used to, but so much of it will still look familiar, because we all have so much more in common than we have differences. πŸ™‚

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali is also on my Goodreads TBR, and after reading Saints and Misfits, I’m looking forward to reading that more than Christmas and my birthday and the first warm day of summer combined. I’m so, so glad I was finally able to get my hands on a copy, and I truly hope Ms. Ali never, ever stops writing. So many people, myself included, need stories just like this one.

Visit S.K. Ali’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy- edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

While I’m not much of a series reader, after having read Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, as soon as I found out there was a companion version from the men’s perspective, I knew I had to read it, too. Fortunately for me, my library also had a copy of Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi (Beacon Press, 2014), so I happily grabbed it on my next library trip. (Which is pretty much every day, hence the name of this blog. Odds are, if I’m not at the library, I was there earlier in the day or will be there later on. Today, I was there twice. Why yes, I have no life!)

Just like Love, InshAllah, Salaam, Love is a collection of essays, this time written by American Muslim men on their perspectives on the search for love, dating, Muslim courtship, sex, the difficulties and joys of marriage, and all the happiness and heartbreak that come about in the search to find and live with a partner. Once again, this book highlights a unique perspective in romance; Muslim men aren’t necessarily the go-to voice when it comes to affairs of the heart, so each essay feels fresh, a novel (though it shouldn’t be) but welcome change from the usual, everyday take on love.

The essays, just as in Love, InshAllah, run the gamut on experiences: there are straight men who date, gay men who hide their relationships from their families (and one who grows in his faith after an encounter with a particularly devout man, which I found both charming and heartwarming), converts, Muslims from birth, men who submit to their parents’ wishes for a traditional Muslim courtship, men whose search for love continues, men whose loves died (both metaphorically and literally), love that works out, and love that doesn’t. Interspersed with it all are struggles with faith, culture (often the straddling of two or more cultures), and how to incorporate both fully into a relationship that may have ties to neither.

It’s possible I may have enjoyed Salaam, Love even more than Love, InshAllah (and I really enjoyed that!). I don’t read men’s writing as often as I read women- not on purpose, I tend to enjoy female writers more, especially when it comes to fiction- but reading about men’s thoughts on love and emotion and the struggle that goes with each, THAT was absolutely a breath of fresh air. How often do we hear about men’s feelings on anything? Men in our society- in most societies, sadly- are taught to not feel things, hide whatever they do feel, and never, ever discuss it, especially not in public. Hearing these men talk about having their hearts broken, about crying after being dumped by a girlfriend or the fear they felt over a loved one’s frightening medical diagnosis was a balm to my soul. (Are you listening, men? MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.)

The authors vary by background: many have ancestral roots in Africa, the Middle East, or south Asia (and many of these authors are first generation Americans); others are white converts who grew up Christian or Jewish and found a home in Islam, but often struggled to find a spouse. Several are bi- or multi-racial. It’s a beautiful mixture of people and places, and their stories had me wishing for more when I turned the final page.

I can’t recommend these books enough, and if you read one, you definitely need to read the other. I’m so glad to have a better understanding on some of the many Muslim American perspectives on relationships.

Reading these two companion books reminded me how much I enjoy essay collections, whether by a single author or multiple authors like these. If you have a favorite collection of essays, I’d love to hear about it!

(In writing this out, I discovered a few typos on my post of Love, InshAllah, namely, my failure to capitalize the A, and a misspelling of Nura Maznavi’s last name. I apologize greatly for these errors and have corrected them.)

Follow Love InshAllah on Twitter.

Nura Maznavi’s tweets are protected (and given the climate on Twitter some/most days, I can’t blame her).

Follow Ayesha Mattu.

YA

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali- Sabina Khan

I’m not sure the route by which this ended up on my TBR. Was it from a Book Riot article on Muslim authors? Due to a fellow book blogger’s review? Could go either way on this, but I knew that I wanted to read The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, 2019) almost immediately; the premise of the story ticked so many of my ‘THIS IS FASCINATING; MUST READ’ boxes.

I love when that happens. What didn’t happen was this being at the library the first two or three times I looked for it, which is both frustrating (for me!) and wonderful, because it means other people are reading it. Hurray for you, other local people! You have awesome taste in books.

Rukhsana Ali is seventeen, Muslim, Bengali-American…and a lesbian. Having a secret girlfriend isn’t something she can share with her uber-conservative parents, so she sneaks around, sneaks out, hides who she really is, nods and smiles and grits her teeth when her mother talks about Rukhsana getting married (seriously, Mom! College first, especially now that Rukhsana has a full ride to Cal Tech!). Her stress levels aren’t helped by her friends, who don’t get how uptight her parents are and how difficult it is to hide such a huge part of herself. Even Ariana, her girlfriend, doesn’t quite get it.

But all good schemes must come to an end, and when Rukhsana’s parents learn of Ariana, they hustle her off to Bangladesh (no matter that it’s near the end of senior year. Exams, what???), supposedly to visit her ailing grandmother, but the longer they’re there, Rukhsana begins to suspect their motives weren’t quite honest. And when arranged marriage becomes very real and very immediate, Rukhsana will have to dig deep, find all the strength she’s gathered from reading her grandmother’s diary, and fight for who she loves and who she truly is.

Remember that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the dude thrusts his fist into another man’s chest and rips out his beating heart? Reading this will make you feel like the second guy, your heart torn from your chest and paraded around by the author for everyone to see. At times, Rukhsana’s options are so limited and her parents, especially her mother, so dictatorial and insensitive, I felt claustrophic about her situation and her future. Her friends are both wonderful and frustrating, in that they don’t fully listen to her concerns and don’t try to understand the difficulties her cultural ties present in coming out; her relationship with Ariana is a typical teenage romance, in that they’re obviously in love but still learning how to communicate and navigate more mature emotional territory. Sweet, but also occasionally frustrating for both Rukhsana and the reader.

But Rukhsana’s parents. Hooooooo boy. Her father doesn’t get as much air time as her mother; Mom is…an uncomfortable-to-read character for the majority of the book. She’s the main source of homophobia and bigotry, and some of the things she says to her daughter and the ways she tries to remedy Rukhsana’s homosexuality are horrifying. Her grandmother, however, is an absolute gem; everyone should have a grandmother who loves them so unconditionally.

Content warnings: there’s a lot of homophobia and anti-gay slurs in the book; a character is murdered because he’s gay; there’s a diary entry that details marital rape and spousal abuse, and a later one that, quite chillingly and almost unexpectedly, includes child molestation (if not child rape; it’s not specified). Ms. Khan’s style is light, which helps the book stay away from Dementor-style darkness, but it’s still not a fun or safe-feeling read.

There’s a massive turnaround that I don’t want to spoil; some readers have complained that it felt a bit whiplashy and unrealistic. I totally understand that, and I also get how said turnaround could have happened, when the characters who experienced it were confronted with the consequences of the exact same attitudes that they had. It’s understandable, and personally, while I wouldn’t have been quite as forgiving as Rukhsana was, at least not so quickly, it did make for a pleasant ending.

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a gut-punch of a YA novel, and was definitely worth the wait. I hope the other library patrons who checked it out before me enjoyed it as much as I did.

Visit Sabina Khan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Internment- Samira Ahmed

Sometimes a book comes along that fits eerily well into the current cultural and political environment of the times. Internment by Samira Ahmed (Atom, 2019) is one of those books.

First off, content warnings. Internment focuses on racial and religious discrimination, and there are multiple instances of racial and religious hatred, including insults. There are also multiple scenes of violence and several deaths. It’s not hard to deduce that this book draws heavily from the current political climate, so be sure that this book, with its heaviness and reality-based horrors, is something you can handle at the time. It’s not an easy read.

Internment begins in a time when the United States government has begun placing heavy restrictions on the activities of Muslims, from where they work to how late they can stay out (history students, does this sound at all familiar?). Teenager Layla Amin is bristling under the unfairness of it all, but her parents are trying to stay optimistic. All their optimism crashes to the ground, however, when the authorities show up at their house one night to take them away to a Muslim concentration camp in the middle of the desert, run by guards who (for the most part) lack any shred of humanity, with other Muslims charged with keeping them in line (if you’re familiar with the term ‘kapo,’ this would be an example of it). Torn away from everything familiar, Layla can hardly believe that her once-comfortable life in the Land of the Free has been reduced to…this.

Almost immediately and often without thinking through the potential consequences, Layla begins making plans for freedom, enlisting other teenagers she befriends, as well as a sympathetic guard, who helps her contact her non-Muslim boyfriend back home. Slowly, Layla and her friends begin to enact changes around the camp, but the blowback and the repercussions are serious and deadly. The culmination of it all will leave you at the edge of your seat, frantically flipping pages and praying for resolution for Layla and all others forced into this kind of captivity.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: given the current political climate and with daily stories about the horrors of migrants, asylum seekers, and others, including children, in camps with questionable-to-downright-horrific conditions, this isn’t an easy read and will break your heart several times over. Layla is a bit on the young side for her age, and while she’s obviously intelligent, she’s also reckless and doesn’t always think things through (although if she did, I’m not sure this story would have been so action-packed, so her more imprudent nature serves its purpose for the story). More in the interest of brevity, the story concludes much quicker than it would have in real life, wrapping up a bit more neatly than reason leads me to believe it would play out currently, and though the director of Layla’s camp veers slightly toward ‘caricature’ in his overt monstrosity and lack of self-control, Internment is still a chilling, way-too-close-to-reality novel that is worth the read.

In a world where we have camps where children are taking care of other small children, reading this had me rage-screaming in my head, but I don’t regret picking it up- quite the opposite, in fact. Internment will stick with me as I continue to struggle to find ways to voice my fury at the actions carried out by my country. Nothing ever feels like enough, but doing absolutely nothing isn’t acceptable to me: as Edmund Burke said, β€œThe only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Internment and the daily onslaught of news are both depressing reminders of that.

Visit Samira Ahmed’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women- Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu

There are some books I seriously look forward to reading the second they land on my TBR, and Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu (Soft Skull Press, 2012) was one of those books. I’ve always known that many Muslim marriages are made not through dating, but more of a process that involves both families. It’s not the case for all Muslims, though, and I was interested in learning more.

Love, InshAllah is a collection of essays written by American Muslim women about their search for love. Some of them go the traditional route: their parents find available young men they think are suitable for their daughters and the daughters are free to say yes or no at any point in the process. If, after a few meetings, the couple decides they’re compatible and that a marriage between them would be the best option, the family celebrates and begins planning a wedding. The book showcases instances both of where this worked out fabulously and where the marriage ended, sometimes quickly, in divorce (which, when you think about it, isn’t that different from the average American marriage. I’m guessing most of us know at least one couple who married and then divorced fairly soon after).

Other women date in a more typical American fashion; a few opt to become someone’s second wife, after putting a lot of thought into it and spending time with the first wife. For at least one of the wives, being a second wife offers her the independence and freedom that she felt being a sole wife wouldn’t, and her reasoning for this decision makes a lot of sense (still not something I would choose for myself, but I have to agree with her that the down/alone time would rock!). Some women never find what they’re looking for and the search continues, while others revel in their happily-ever-after.

Love, InshAllah is real-life romance and the search for it, viewed through a cultural lens that I think most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about. It’s a book that gives Muslims a chance to see themselves on the pages and that will help non-Muslims both understand and appreciate our differences. Something doesn’t have to match my path or my life choices in order for me to recognize its worth for someone else, and that alone made this book the perfect read for me.

There’s a section of author bios in the back, as is common with essay collections such as this, and I do wish that these books kept the bios at the end of each author’s piece, since it’s difficult for me to remember each author’s name once I get to the end, and I don’t necessarily want to be flipping back and forth through the whole book. Regardless, Love, InshAllah is a fascinating, insightful look at romance in a group of women who don’t often get the chance to tell their own romantic stories, and I’m so happy that this book exists and that the book was readily available to me through one of my local libraries.

The two authors/editors have also teamed up to produce Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex and Intimacy, and you better bet I hit the WANT TO READ button on that baby immediately!!!

Follow Love InshAllah on Twitter.

Nura Maznavi’s tweets are protected (and given the climate on Twitter some/most days, I can’t blame her).

Follow Ayesha Mattu.

memoir

The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

Another book from my wandering-the-library-with-no-list day! The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman called out to me right away from the New Arrivals shelf- with a title like that, how could it not? We’ve all felt like we’ve been sitting at the wrong end of the table at one time or another in our lives, as Ms. Salman points out; I’ve definitely been there (#socialanxiety #awkward #thisiswhyIstayhome), and so this jumped off the shelf and into my book pile. πŸ™‚

Ayser Salman was born in Iraq.. Her family moved to the US when she was three for her parents’ jobs (as well as to flee the growing fascist regime), living first in Ohio and then moving to Lexington, Kentucky, which did have a small Arab community (very small, from the sounds of it). Ms. Salman never felt like she fit in with the other kids: the food she ate was different, her religion was different, her hair was different, her family’s customs were different, even her name was different from those of her fellow classmates. There’s no angst, no whining or woe-is-me style of writing here; on the contrary, Ms. Salman displays a level of humor and good-natured acceptance of her far-too-often outsider status in her youth that would be difficult for most to achieve. When her family spends a few years in Saudi Arabia, though some things ring familiar (she’s finally with people like her!), there are still plenty of times she remains on the edges.

Ms. Salman covers a variety of topics from her life, from her primary education, her love life (and occasional lack thereof, which isn’t always a bad thing!), her parents (you’ll love her mother) and her relationship with them, siblings, her work life and her struggle to get where she is, how September 11th affected her community, and much more. Over the course of these many essays, she grows from a child who can’t quite find the place where she’s supposed to fit in, into a woman who’s fully able to forge her own path, create her own place, and embrace all that her history and her culture mean to her.

The Wrong End of the Table is a fun read. Ms. Salman’s comical way of explaining her childhood antics had me smiling as I turned the pages, her relationship with her mother charmed me to pieces, and the family’s move to Saudi Arabia, coupled with her fear, fascinated me. I’d read accounts of adults moving there, but never that of someone who moved as a child, so this book was worth the read for that alone, to better understand what that experience is like.

She does get into politics a little, including the Muslim ban; I don’t think there’s any way for that particular subject to be avoided these days, nor should it, especially since it affects Ms. Salman’s community and most likely affects people she knows personally. Her tone is optimistic, more so than I would have been, and so I’m only mentioning this so that you keep it in mind when you’re choosing what you can handle reading. There’s an awful lot in the news that I’m currently not handling well at all; I’ve had to put a few books down because I’m not in the right headspace to be able to carry the emotional weight of those books as well as everything else right now. (And that’s not to say that I won’t ever go back to those books at a different time.)

So this was a great modern take on living in the US as a Muslim immigrant, by a woman with a gift for storytelling. I enjoyed reading such a refreshing take on American life through Ms. Salman’s eyes.

Visit Ayser Salman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story- Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

During the month of Ramadan, BookRiot came out with a list of memoirs by Muslim women, and, always eager to learn more about the world and my neighbors (we have a good-sized Muslim community in my town and the surrounding towns), I pored over the list, adding several to my Goodreads TBR. Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (Simon Schuster, 2016) sounded interesting, and I was happy to find that my local library branch had in on the shelves (though not in stock; I had to return several times before it was available. As a reader, you’d think that that would be frustrating, but honestly, I’m not ever frustrated by that- I’m happy that my fellow townsfolk are reading, and they’re reading the same awesome books that I want to read! I live amongst great people, you guys).

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, but before she began to change the internet and make its first real space for young Muslim women, she was a nine-year-old girl whose entire world changed the day the Twin Towers fell. Life for American Muslims altered dramatically that day; while Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh does recount a few positive experiences with kind people offering support, she and the members of her community were collectively assigned blame for horrors perpetrated a group of individuals who shared little more than their label. For a while, she and her family returned to Jordan, but ultimately came home to the United States, where she found she needed a deep sense of courage and self to even leave the house some days (and not without reason; a quick Google search is showing me multiple stories about Muslims, both men and women, pushed onto subway tracks and down subway stairs, while being called terrorists).

Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh recounts the lack of self-confidence she had growing up, and how that began to change as she matured. Founding MuslimGirl.com, first on LiveJournal and then moving it to its own domain, changed her life and launched her as a public personality, able to speak out for young women who work incredibly hard to make places for themselves in a society who, far too often, view them only as a single story.

Muslim Girl is a slim tome, but it speaks volumes, and I’m grateful to Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh for sharing her story. Despite living in such a diverse community, my world is pretty small right now (home, driving kids and husband places, running errands, and that’s pretty much it). Now that my daughter will be going to school soon, I’m hoping to be able to become more involved in my community (although I’m not yet sure how; my terrible back limits my abilities), but until then, it’s important to me to read books written by people who have experienced the world differently than I have, and this book absolutely fits the bill. I’ve known that the Muslim community has suffered terrible treatment since September 11th; I’ve read the news stories and been horrified, but this is the first first-person account I’ve read of the discrimination they’ve endured. I’m saddened, I’m angered, I’m bewildered that so many people, instead of learning and understanding, lash out in ignorance. Why aren’t we better than that?

I always feel a little out of place reviewing books by marginalized authors. My job as a random white woman blogger who has read and enjoyed this book, I feel, is merely to amplify the existence of Muslim Girl. Don’t read my words; read Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s. Hers are the important one here, hers and those of others that are routinely pushed to the side and ignored or shouted over; listen and work to understand to what she has to say, because it’s the only way we’re going to achieve a more compassionate and accepting society, where everyone can thrive.

Visit MuslimGirl.com here.

Follow Amani Al-Khatahbeh on Twitter here.