I needed a book where the main character’s name is in the title for the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. This wouldn’t have been a tough one; everywhere I go, I see books with a name in the title, so the pickings were anything but slim. Fortunately, they were also easy; right there on my TBR was Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, 2021). I really enjoyed her The Loves and Lies of Rukhsana Ali in 2019, so I was looking forward to reading this, and this challenge was the perfect push!
Zara Hossain, the daughter of Pakistani immigrant parents, is having a little trouble in her Texas high school. One of the students, Tyler the jock, has been being a huge dick to her about Muslims and immigrants in general. Her parents are worried, but Zara’s well-supported by Nick and Priya, her two best friends, and Chloe, a girl from another school Zara’s interested in. She’s not about to let Tyler ruin things for her.
But as his racist attacks escalate and involve other students, Zara refuses to back down. This leads to his vandalizing her house one night, and when her father goes to confront Tyler’s father, he’s shot. Suddenly, Zara’s entire future is at stake: her father’s life, his safety and ability to stay out of prison, the entire family’s immigration status. Zara had been looking forward to applying for colleges; now she’s looking at a very possible return to a country she barely remembers. But Zara’s not backing down, not without a fight.
This is definitely a timely novel. There’s been so much in the news the past five or six years about how broken our immigration system is, and this novel is the perfect illustration of how, even when you do everything exactly right, you can still be deported immediately due to the whims of other people. Ms. Khan has created characters, a family, that lives on the edge all the time, even though they’re privileged and not struggling with issues that many other immigrant families face, such as poverty. Zara’s father is a doctor, and even that’s not enough to save them from the strain of immigration-related stress.
I did feel that the book is a bit lacking in terms of the depths of the characters, that the message takes more of a center stage at the expense of character growth. I never truly felt like we get to know Zara outside of this immediate moment, outside of the current struggles she and her family are facing. I would’ve liked to have seen a few more shades of her personality and who she is outside of her sexuality (her bisexuality is an important part of this story) and her immigration status. She’s a strong character, both determined and dutiful, but I would’ve enjoyed getting to know her a little beyond these traits.
Immigrant teens will likely see something of their own struggles and frustrations in Zara’s, but teens who aren’t part of that world need these stories just as much. Our immigration system is in dire need of a fix; my hopes lie in this next generation and the inspiration they’ll take, not just from their own stories and those of their friends, but also from reading stories like these and understanding just how badly things need to change.
Visit Sabina Khan’s website here.