This new rom com in book form with a Muslim female character written by a Muslim author, sets itself apart by being co-written by a Jewish author and the other half of the love story being told by a Jewish boy’s point of view. This YA book is very relevant as a special election in Georgia served as the catalyst of the two authors coming together and fictionalizing the effects of white supremacy, Islamaphobia, and antisemitism for the book, while real headlines were urging the two to canvas, get involved, and make a change against the increased showing of hate with the election of Trump. The presentation of Islam is probably realistic, but definitely not ideal, and with the kissing, multiple LGBTQ+ supporting characters, the profanities, and 436 page length, the book is probably best for 15 year old readers and up.
Jamie Goldberg is 17 and is spending his summer helping his cousin work on a special election campaign for a Democratic candidate in an incredibly red district in Georgia. A very nervous kid, who hates public speaking and talking to girls in general, he would rather be behind the scenes or hanging out at Target. His little sister, Sophie’s bat mitzvah is coming and things at home are crazy with pre party planning. His grandma, an Instagram sensation uses him for tech support and video filming, and his easy going demeanor means he spends a lot of time, being bossed around.
Maya is the 17 year old only child of a lawyer mom and physician dad and has just found out that they are separating. With her one friend too busy with work and starting at the University of Georgia, US born, Pakistani-American Muslim Maya, is not having a very good Ramadan. When an interfaith event reunites her with a childhood play-date friend, Jamie, her mom convinces her to help him canvas to keep busy and sweetens the deal by bribing her with a car.
Naturally the two spend a lot of time together vounteering for Jordan Rossum, stuffing envelopes, canvassing, and putting up signs. Along their way they become good friends, and invested in the election as a House Bill banning head coverings, and antisemitic bumper stickers start getting plastered around town. The end of Ramadan, the election, the hate the two encounter, and families changing, bring Jamie and Maya together.
Maya’s parents are pretty chill about boys, and only caution her about unnecessary complications by dating in high school, when Maya throws it back on them, that their relationship is pretty complicated, she seems to not find an Islamic reason not to make-out with Jamie. The whole book is angsty and the two feign cluelessness, but based on the cover of the book alone you know where it is going. The true climax is how much the relationship can be used for political gain, and if they can get their candidate elected.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like the political setting, it is a different and very relevant slant. It might be a little alienating to readers outside the United States, because the political process isn’t really detailed, but the characters involvement in their small slice is a major aspect of the book. The book is definitely pro Democrat, but addresses the gas lighting, hate speech, and views of those on both sides.
I also like that two minority authors came together to share an OWN voice perspective of life today. For the most part the story telling is smooth with the two characters getting alternating chapters to tell their story from their point of view. A few times, I felt details were missing, for example what Maya wore for Eid, when space was given to detail that she didn’t wear ethnic clothes to an iftar, and her picking a dress for Sophie’s bat mitzvah. Similarly, Maya’s parents seemed flat for their trial separation being a major part of Maya’s stress. Jamie’s grandma was probably my favorite side character, and one of the most fleshed out.
I am fully aware that some Muslims pick and chose what to follow and that not everyone is strict about boy/girl relations, but I felt like for a book that is set in Ramadan, uses religion as a catalyst for civic action, Maya’s mom wearing hijab, and an opening scene being set at the masjid, there is really nothing Islam in the defining aspects of the characters or story. It is so watered down and almost catering to non Muslims to feel comfortable, that it left me annoyed. And I think non Muslims too will wonder why Maya’s mom covers and Maya doesn’t and how that works, or why Maya switches to having one reason for not dating and then a religious one.
The book sets out to do a lot in terms of humanizing the effects of laws and policy on average people, but I don’t know that most Muslims hoping to see a mirror to their experience will find that in Maya. I can’t speak about Jamie, and the Jewish experience, but Maya is rather forgettable in my opinion.
There is a lot of cursing, and the F word at that. In the dialogue set in Ramadan, it becomes a joke to substitute it for something else, but once the month is over, the language resumes. There is kissing, and making-out with the main characters. There is talk of hooking up, but nothing explicit. There are is a side character friend that is gay and he and his boyfriend are affectionate. After the bat mitzvah Sophie comes out to Jamie.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t think that I could do this as a middle school selection, the rationale for Jamie and Maya dating, isn’t ok for an Islamic School message. I really wish just once, a book like this would have the main character, being like, “nope, sorry.” It is getting predictable and while I know it is countering the oppressed woman view, it is becoming equally one dimensional in its presentation of Muslim women.