Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Standard

love from a to z.jpg

Now that there is legitimately a genre of YA Islamic Romance out there told in Own Voice, the expectations are high that a book is compelling, realistic, and unique somehow.  While the author’s first book, Saints and Misfits was pretty ground breaking, this 342 page was a great read, but not nearly as remarkable or memorable.  Granted it is not fair to compare the two books, and each day I do age out of the target demographic, but while the story reads authentic and true, albeit a bit serendipitous, it doesn’t have the teeth or grit I was kind of hoping for, and with a mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis my emotions were pretty invested.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from both Adam and Zayneb’s perspectives by way of their individual “Oddities and Marvels” journals, our two characters are presented by a narrator who keeps their story on track and interjects when their versions of an event differ. 

Zayneb is a high schooler and activist who has recently been expelled for threatening a teacher who consistently lets his Islamaphobic beliefs take over the days lessons.  In an environment filled with micro aggressions against Muslims, Zeynab’s parents are at a loss at how to keep their daughter from making waves, and thus allow her to leave her Indiana home a week before spring break to visit her aunt in Doha, Qatar.

Adam is at University in London where he has recently been diagnosed with MS and as a result has stopped going to classes, and is literally “making” the most of the time he has by making things.  As the term ends and he officially withdraws from school, he heads home to Doha to tell his dad and sister that he has the same disease that took his mother’s life years early.

The two characters meet at the airport briefly and then again on the plane and then at Adam’s house and the needless to say  their accidental meetings allow for friendship to grow, attraction to be built upon and a relationship to develop. Both characters have their own lives and own obstacles and own maturity that needs to occur in order for a happy ending to take place, and thus the book keeps you interested, invested and cheering them on.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the dynamic of how the book and characters are set up.  Both are practicing Muslims, both characters don’t cross a line, both characters have diverse mixed cultural backgrounds, and one is a convert and the other the daughter of a convert.  She is fiery and impulsive and emotional, he is pragmatic and calm and quiet.  While they have some background in common, their life experiences are rather different and it is very much a story about opposites attracting.  

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, and so I knew my expectations would be too high.  That being said the book warns it is a love story and in some ways, that was what I kind of felt was lacking.  There was the physical attraction that was mentioned fairly often, but the deep connection of ideas or growing seemed a bit lacking.  

I really liked Adam, and his internal stresses and struggles and coming to grips with his disease seemed pretty developed.  Somehow though, and I’m probably in the minority, I didn’t love Zayneb.  She is impulsive and definitely learned and grew from the start of the book to the end, but I didn’t love her nuances with dealing with the Emmas and her friends back home and unraveling her teacher, it felt kind of forced and I can’t articulate why.  I’m glad she matured and she got answers about her grandmother, but maybe I should have felt so much in common with her and when I didn’t, I felt a little irritated.  Clearly I get too invested in fictional characters, I’ll admit that.

I like that Islam is presented in a non defensive way.  The parents aren’t evil, there is no rebelling, even the awful teacher spawns backlash and allies to Zayneb and her cause. There is no apologizing or overly explaining if the characters are pushing boundaries established by Islam or if they are establishing their own boundaries based on their understanding of Islam.  I like this, because it shows that Muslims are not a monolith, we are not one way good or bad.  Zayneb covers and prays and has friends that are boys and her family is kept in the loop of what she does, which alone breaks so many of the predominate stereotypes about Muslims.  Adam himself converted at age nine and plays the guitar and has friends that are girls, and is close to his sister, and likes dogs.  A side character is noted to be incredibly religious, but doesn’t cover.  The story takes place in an Islamic majority country, but attitudes at the swimming pool don’t allow Zayneb to dress modestly while she swims.  

Overall, the book is a delightful read that manages to keep the religious integrity in the characters and show their personalities as they come of age.  It may not be memorable years after reading, but what you do remember will be positive, and while you are reading it, you will have a hard time putting it down.

FLAGS:

There is angsty romance, and talk of sex.  The two main characters keep it pretty clean, but the side characters joke about hooking up, being horny, and sneaking off to hotel rooms.  The non Muslim aunt has a secret alcohol and cigarette stash that she gets called out on, but nothing more is mentioned about it. I think 9th or 10th grade and up will be perfectly ok to read.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is a lot to unpack in this book and I think if one just listens, teens will naturally add their own opinions and perspectives on EVERYTHING the characters experience, feel, question, and cope with.  The book just came out, but I would imagine that over time discussion questions will appear.

Author’s website: https://skalibooks.com/books/

Interview with the author: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/an-interview-with-s-k-ali-author-of-love-from-a-to-z/

 

Advertisements

Allah Made Everything: The Song Book by Zain Bhikha illustrated by Azra Momin

Standard
Allah Made Everything: The Song Book by Zain Bhikha illustrated by Azra Momin

allah made everything.jpg

I’ve reviewed a few song books over the years and often don’t love them, this one however, is awesome!  This 30 page hardbound 9×9 book is a great size for toddlers and up, the only thing hard about the book is reading the words and not singing them.

IMG_4403

The text is large and easy to read as it dances around the pages.  It follows the song exactly, just not the repeating lines.

IMG_4404

Each stanza tells a bit about an animal, and the animal answers who created them.  The chorus is that Allah is our creator and some attributes.

IMG_4405

The back of the book says for ages five and up, and yes some of the vocabulary is a bit advanced, but the general feel and point of the book is appropriate for little ones and the pictures will keep the littles engaged as well.

IMG_4406

The bright colorful illustrations are playful and fun.  They make the book able to stand alone even by chance you have never heard the song, or had it stuck in your head for days.

The book recently came out and it appears that they have plans to turn other songs of Zain Bhikha’s into books, which inshaAllah will be just as enjoyable and faith reinforcing as this one.  Special thanks to http://www.crescentmoonstore.com for their friendly service when I purchased the book. https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/allah-made-everything

One Meal More: A Multicultural Ramadan Story by Emma Apple

Standard
One Meal More: A Multicultural Ramadan Story by Emma Apple

one meal more.png

Like many of Emma Apple’s books that she writes and illustrates, the concept is simple, the illustrations minimal, the message clear, and the price a tad bit high.

IMG_4409

At 50 pages this $17 soft bound Ramadan counting book is a little disappointing.  Had it been half the price, I would say it was great.  So, now that that is off my chest, let’s dive in.

IMG_4410

The concept and text follow a pattern that it is Ramadan, the samosas are on the table for the guests and then there is a knock at the door and someone from a different country has arrived with a traditional dish, one meal more, to add to the table for them all to share. They get to 10 and the athan is called, they start with a date and they all eat.

IMG_4411

I love that each of the women that arrive are not just from different countries, but that they are dressed different.  Some are covered, some are not, those that are covered are all wearing their hijabs differently.  The women are all smiling and the book shows diversity.

IMG_4412

One could nitpick and say that many of the visitors do not bring a meal, they bring a drink or a snack, but I think that is besides the point.  The point is that everyone from everywhere shares Ramadan, differently, but the same too.  And this book brings the world down to size on one table and with welcome arms.

IMG_4413

Muslims and non Muslim children ages 3 and up will get something out of it.  Whether it just be counting or hearing different international foods or understanding how Ramadan unites Muslims all over the world, the repetitive words and pictures will illustrate the beauty of the month in a simple way.

 

 

 

Before Birth, Beyond Life: A Muslim Mother’s Ode by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Heshan Gunasekara

Standard
Before Birth, Beyond Life: A Muslim Mother’s Ode by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Heshan Gunasekara

birthbefore birth

This 24 page book written in rhyme explains with love and Islamic oversight the circle of life.  From before birth and what happens after death, the tone and images of the book really are very beautiful and dream like.  The author suggests the book for ages 6-9, but I think even toddlers will enjoy the poetry and illustrations.

IMG_4378

The book is told from a mother to her child explaining that she is the answer to her  prayers, but that there is the One, the Creator, who knows and loves her even more.

IMG_4379

It details that everything about her is perfect and exact according to the will of Allah swt, even before her birth Allah knows and has decreed everything.

IMG_4380

Once born, your mom loves and prays and watches you grow, but at an appointed time you, like all of us will leave this world for the next.

IMG_4381

And that in the afterlife, inshaAllah once again we will be reunited.

Children are rarely sad when loved ones pass away, often pointing out that they are with Allah Subhanawatala now, and this book stems from that peace and comfort in knowing there is a world beyond this one.  Not just for children, this book would make a perfect gift for expectant mothers or as a reminder for older kids in families suffering from loss.

I have the paperback 9 x 6 size book as I’m here in the US, but a larger hardback version exists elsewhere and I think the illustrations would benefit from the larger size.  Also, the pictures are a shoutout to Dubai and I think kids who have been there or live there will equally enjoy the skyline on a number of the pages.

There is a talking points ebook for the book that you can get for free at https://littlemutaqeen.com/talkingpointsbefore/ that will assist you in presenting the information and concepts explored to older and more curious kids.  It talks about how to broach potentially awkward concepts (pregnancy, birth, death) and a maintain body positive message, clarity of heaven and hell, and so much more. I highly recommend it.

 

Unlikely Friends by Sahar AbdulAziz

Standard
Unlikely Friends by Sahar AbdulAziz

unlikely friends.jpeg

Another wonderful book by a Muslim author that doesn’t discuss Islam, but is expertly written and such a great read, that I wanted to highlight it here on the blog.  At 293 pages and involving a teen character I was really on the fence if this would qualify as “young adult,” so I reached out to the author to ask, and she, mashaAllah, responded! Unfortunately, she felt it wouldn’t quite qualify, even though it is a bit of a coming of age story.  So, why am I still reviewing it?  Because I think high schoolers (muslim and non) would really enjoy the book, and with finals nearly over, anyone in that demographic looking for feel good story that is pretty clean (Ramadan is nearly here), I think this book would be a great choice! And full disclosure, yes I’m biased, the librarian is the hero!

SYNOPSIS:

Told from multiple points of view the linear story brings together two introverts, Irwin and Harper, that have a lot of real and serious issues pressing them.  Their traumatic back stories are slowly revealed as the two unlikely friends come together to deal with their current predicaments.

Irwin is an old ornery librarian that doesn’t like people or change.  He is set in his ways and the stubborn Harper, a young high school student for some reason latches on to him.  He tries to shake her, but finds he is genuinely concerned about her and despite his better judgement finds himself helping her and getting tangled in to her messy home life.  

Surrounded by a cast of developed and diverse characters the fictional world of Irwin and Harper is both believable and realistic.  Irwin’s author neighbor is losing her memory, slowly, but noticeably, his deceased fiance’s daughter passes away shaking his routine, and his colleagues at the library are funny and annoying in their own ways.  Harper’s father is released from prison and her mother must make a stand to resist falling into old drug habits, all while trying to make ends meet and put food on the table.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it reads so very smoothly.  You feel Irwin’s shell cracking and you see that he is so much more than just a stereotypical grumpy old man.  You also see Harper’s mother, Olivia concerned that her daughter and an old man are becoming friends.  You probably could predict how things will end up, but the way it is written you aren’t really worried, you are just enjoying getting to know the characters presented.  Overall, it really is a great lens to remind us all that friendship, real friendship is incredibly valuable.  In a world of filters and digital everything, sometimes our humanity is all we have.  I also like that people are given the chance to change and grow, the group of main characters are not stagnant or one dimensional, their challenges and dilemmas are brought in to the open and you feel for them as you would a real person.

The only two questions that stood out as inconsistent with the characters and story development are why didn’t Harper just get a job to help out her and her mother’s financial situation? Plenty of teens have jobs, so that seemed a little off to me.  Secondly, Olivia works at a supermarket presumably or a market of some sort, so it would seem that an employee discount or nearly expired food section would make their food insecure situation a little less severe.  Granted its fiction, but these two jarring concepts seemed to hold me back from completely being swept away.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean in terms of what is explicitly conveyed.  The details that make it possibly/probably not suitable for younger readers are the drug histories of Harper’s parents and what they did to acquire drugs, what they did when on drugs and what was allowed to take place around Harper when she was a child.  Darren, Harper’s father, believes that Harper was sexually abused by someone when he was high and this memory haunts him.  It isn’t explicit, but it is there.  Some mention of Olivia waking up in dealer’s beds is again mentioned in passing, but not detailed.  One could imagine two druggies trying to raise a child and get their next hit, but a lot of the understanding will come from the prior knowledge the reader has of such scenarios, not from the text itself. 

There is the idea that physical abuse was common between Darren and Olivia and is shown in Darren’s temper when he throws a vase against a wall after coming to Olivia and Harper’s home when released from prison.

There is some mention of Irwin’s fiance’s relationship with her ex-husband in that he cheated on her regularly.

So definitely, the book has elements for older readers, but the way the topics are discussed: drugs, abuse, infidelity, are not glorified or even detailed, more they set the stage in defining the current conflicts the characters face, the pasts they must over come, and the environments that they want to improve upon.  I think 15 and up could handle it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m thinking to recommend this book to the Sister that runs the high school book club.  I think there would be so much to discuss and myths to dispel that an older group would benefit from the experience and work the author does and writes about in this book.

Plus the fact that the author so easily responded to me, might inspire a group of teenagers to reach out and be equally inspired.

 

I Love Ramadan by Taymaa Salhah

Standard
I Love Ramadan by Taymaa Salhah

IMG_3901

There is nothing wrong with this dual language book, but there it isn’t anything to get excited about based on the story alone, either.  If you are looking for a basic book with both English and Arabic telling what a little boy does in Ramadan, not elaborating on any reasons why he does them, then this book will adequately suffice.

IMG_3903

The book is just linear facts, I wouldn’t even say that it is information driven, as there isn’t really even a story, it is just a few simple sentences on each of the 20 pages of a boy telling in first person what he is doing.   “I finish my meal before athan alfajr and fast until sunset” it says on one page.   “When I hear athan almaghreb, I recite dua and break my fast with my family” it reads two pages later.  It does not define athan or almaghreb nor does it specify the dua.

IMG_3904

The book is on the dry side, but I would image the simplicity in the Arabic, might be what would appeal to parents looking for their kids to read and understand both languages independently.  I don’t speak Arabic so I’m unable to comment on the grammar complexities or smoothness.

IMG_3905

The illustrations are sufficient, again nothing super exciting or noticeably off about them.  The book is short, hardbound (8.5 x 8.5) and honestly, rather unremarkable or memorable, unfortunately.

IMG_3906

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan illustrated by Ben Hibon

Standard
Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan illustrated by Ben Hibon

shadow magic.jpg

This book is fun and enchanting, whether you read all 321 pages and fall in to the occasional illustrations and pour over the map, or listen to the audio and get swept away.  It is an AR 4.1, and the first in the three part series.  Told by the point of view of two characters, the book’s short chapters and high action speed are expertly crafted to keep suspense and interest high, while maintaining solid world building events and making the character’s history come alive.  Their isn’t anything Islamic in the books, save some critical and cleverly named characters and ideas, but the author in interviews has said he is Muslim, and that is enough for me to share a book I thoroughly enjoyed on this blog!

SYNOPSIS:

Thorn is a fugitive kid, on the run from something left intentional vague and possibly the son of an outlaw.  Raised on the edge of Herne forest (earth), he is good with animals, feels comfortable in nature, has a soft heart for doing what is right, and isn’t afraid of hard work.  He finds himself being sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehenna, Tyburn, and is off to Castle Gloom where he will meet and befriend the new ruler of House Shadow (death/darkness), Lily.

Lillith Shadow’s parents and brother have been murdered and she is now the ruler of Gehenna.  She is also still a child and events around her require her to grow up fast.  To end hostilities with House Solar she is to wed Prince Gabriel, a pompous idiot, who she despises in principle and in person.  

When an attempt is made on Lily’s life, Thorn and an unexpected ally, K’leef a Prince from the Sultanate of Fire, must work together to figure out who is trying to kill Lily, possibly who killed her parents, where Thorn’s father is, who is raising an army of zombies, and how how to get out of this wedding without causing continued war.

The history of the six founding houses that make up this world, and their elemental magical rules and limitations as magic dies out with each passing generation, come together and a tale is told that contrasts easy everyday language in a mystical proper world of royalty and dukes, colored by the dark of death and necromancy and shadows, while somehow remaining light, and funny, and completely relatable as the kids come of age and learn who they are and what they are capable of doing and accomplishing.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book is clean and that it has both Thorn and Lily’s perspectives to move the story along and give insight into the characters.  I love the world building and how the history of each of the houses is so well thought out and clear.  

“The whole idea of House Shadow is based on the Middle-East. Lily’s dad’s name is Arabic for the devil. Her mother’s the great villainess of the Old Testament and Lily is Lilith, a Hebrew demoness. The view people have of House Shadow mimics the fear the West has of East, and specifically Islam. For that reason all of House Solar is named after archangels. . . Some houses were easier to establish than others. House Djinn was fire as djinns are (out of Arabic lore) beings of smokeless fire. Herne’s an ancient English forest deity, so again a pretty easy fix” (http://www.cybils.com/2017/03/interview-with-joshua-khan.html).

A big plot point is that Lily is magical, and it is against ancient laws, meaning all six houses agree, that women cannot practice magic.  The irony is great, in that even kids can pick up on the fact that the six brothers and founders of the magical houses acknowledge that the source of their magic comes from their mother, a woman, and the hypocrisy of it all is frustrating.  I love that three very different characters have to work together, and pick their battles, it really is a testament to the strength of friendships even with people so very different than yourself.

FLAGS:

Pretty clean, not recalling anything cringeworthy as we listened to it in the car (kids ages 3, 8, 9, 12).  The book is dark in that it takes place in Gehenna and there is talk of the undead and bringing the dead back to life and they really celebrate Halloween in their own dark way.  There is murder and death and assassinations, but it isn’t overly morbid or gory or violent.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think I’ve already 90% decided to start next years middle school book club off with this book.  It is fun and engaging and the discussions would connect this fantasy story to so much in the kid’s lives and greater world that I get giddy just thinking about how fun a discussion it will be.  Sadly the school year is wrapping up and I’ll have to wait until fall.  Here are some of my favorite interviews online with the author:

http://www.cybils.com/2017/03/interview-with-joshua-khan.html

https://www.greenhouseliterary.com/authors/joshua-khan/

Author’s Website: http://www.joshuakhan.com/