I seriously wish I could get back the few hours I spent reading this 281 page AR 4.8 book. The blurbs talks about a girl being torn between the world around her and the world her Muslim-Indian-American parents want for her, unfortunately the protagonist is rather unlikeable and her worlds are actual not that different. Islam is not represented at all, it is just mentioned as a checkpoint almost for the main character to continually justify her identity as “other” and try and illicit sympathy. It seems to be a part of the story so that the story line of Islamaphobia can be addressed, but the book is cultural at best, and even that is rather lacking.
Maya Aziz is 17 and missing a dance her senior year to attend a wedding because she is not allowed to go to such events as the daughter of conservative Indian Muslim (dentist) immigrants living in Illinois. But, immediately the hypocrisy shows itself as at the wedding, a boy, Kareem, deemed suitable by her parents is presented to try and woo Maya and possibly marry her, and the two of them wander off together, and consider meeting up at an after party. As the reader gets to know Maya and her circle of characters, we meet her “cool” Aunt who lives alone and wants Maya to have a life of boys and partying and going to school in New York. Her parents are never really defined except to maintain the stereotype of being controlling, focused on food and appearances, and not understanding their only daughter. At school Maya has a best friend Violet who loves to flirt and remains loyal to Maya throughout, a cute boy Phil, who she has been crushing on for years, and some side figures that stir up some trouble.
The premise of the book is that Maya loves film and wants to go to NYU to attend film school, her parents, want her to live at home and go to the University of Chicago. The idea is that because they are immigrants, and culture and religion dictate all, that she get educated and married. This conflict is intensified by Kareem, her sudden relationship with Phil, and a terrorist act that is first blamed on Muslims occurring hundreds of miles away in Chicago and giving someone at Maya’s school a reason to take out his anger on her and her family.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I don’t like it. The book is presented as an own voice minority representation piece, but it isn’t. I get that Islam is personal and that people identify with it and choose different paths, but this isn’t a case of her looking at Islam and saying it isn’t for me, this is a book that is billed as Islamic fiction, yet the character does nothing Islamic, seems to know nothing of Islam and has no moral conscious for anything about the faith. She says she doesn’t pray or go to the mosque, the parents lament after hate crimes materialize against them, that maybe they should have gone to the mosque at some point. She wears shorts, and tank tops and a bikini and doesn’t feel a tinge or reflection. Even if she were to remark that this is an act of rebellion the reader would know, oh because she was perhaps raised with modesty, but no, she wears whatever. She constantly mentions that she can’t have a boyfriend because she is Muslim, but then makes out with Kareem on like their second meeting, kisses him in her parents living room before deciding she doesn’t like him, repeatedly kisses Phil, practically spends a night with him, and then in the epilogue is kissing a Hindu guy she kind of just met. Yes, there are Muslims that do this, I’m not judging, but how exactly is being Muslim then stopping you from doing that you want to be doing? At one point when out with Kareem, he is drinking wine, Maya remarks she has had it before, and that at least it isn’t eating pork. Misguided and off the mark, yes some Muslims do drink, but with all build up that she can’t do things like that, only to find out she has, and it isn’t a big deal, and she doesn’t even see it as a deal breaker or worth mentioning to her parents who have set her up on this whole path to semi arranged marriage, seems so off.
Anyone hoping to pick up a pice of Islamic fiction to identify with, are going to be so completely let down. The book seems to be written for non Muslims to feel good about having read a book with a minority character. It’s like a coming of age story, except there is no self reflection or understanding of the world, no lessons learned, or wisdom gained, unfortunately.
I kept reading hoping that if even the Islam was poorly done that the love story would be sweet, or the presentation of hate and Islamaphobia would be on point, but it also was shallow. Really only one kid had it out for Muslims, and yes he got violent with Maya and threw a brick through her parent’s dental practice, but it could have been used to show light on misguided hate and it didn’t, I don’t really even know what it was used to show. Maya’s parents got scared and wanted to keep her close, thus forbidding her from going to NYU, but they were already on the fence about it. Yes, maybe it added to the catalyst of her running away from home an in to the arms of Phil, but even that ended up seeming lame, as she left for NYU and was in someone else’s arms by the end of the book. So, not sure really, what religion at all had to do with anything, and why the author and publishing team would want to advertise the book with such a strong religious angle, or even cultural one for that matter. The parents are both successful dentists, who let their daughter do whatever, yes they have an opinion on her future, but Maya reads like a brat, I wish I could like her, and take her side against her tyrant parents, but they don’t actually seem written that bad, and Maya doesn’t make any effort, so she really comes across as whiney, privileged, and entitled.
Alcohol, lying, hate crime, terrorism, physical altercation, kissing, hand holding, talk of condoms, sneaking out. I would not let a 4th grader read this or even a 7th grader, based on content. Quality, I’d encourage most kids to skip it altogether.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t consider this as a book club, I considered not even reviewing it, with the fear that people wouldn’t read the whole review and would just assume I was throwing my support behind it. I am a bit disappointed that the book is available through Scholastic as its back flap reads very different than the text within.