Tag Archives: Diverse

Ayesha Dean- The Lisbon Lawbreaker by Melati Lum

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Ayesha Dean- The Lisbon Lawbreaker by Melati Lum

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In this third Ayesha Dean book, that can be read as a stand alone, the Australian teen sleuth finds herself on the other side of the law in the beautiful city of Lisbon in Portugal.  Over 333 pages, she must understand what she is being accused of and figure out how to clear her name, all while marveling at the beautiful historic sites, diving into the delicious food, and looking fabulous while she does it all.  Middle grade to early middle school readers will enjoy the fast pace mystery that has history, crime, adventure, and friendship.  There, as always, is a twinge of romance, but it all stays halal as Ayesha is a proud and practicing strong Muslim young woman.

SYNOPSIS:

Ayesha Dean is now 18 and has just arrived in Lisbon for three months as part of an internship program to help little kids with their english.  This is her first international trip without her beloved Uncle Day and her two closest friends Jess and Sara.  Not to worry, there are a lot of young people participating in the internship program and she will be rooming with two girls, Mara and Aveline. Things start of routine enough as Ayesha gets to know the handsome and kind Raimy from America and tries to figure out why Aveline doesn’t seem to like her.  But on her way to the school she will be working at, she finds a wallet filled with money and no identification, just a phone number.  When she calls the number and a meeting is setup, the stage is set for a series of events that will include telling Raimy off for mansplaining things to her, a man murdered, a chase scene, a necklace stolen, no memory of it all, and Ayesha being arrested.

Knowing only a few people in the city, and having just met them at that, Ayesha makes bail by getting help from her friend’s Aunt in Spain who comes to provide Ayesha a place to stay as well. She has some time before her formal hearing, and Ayesha is determined to figure out what she is being accused of and how to clear her name.  With the help of Mara, Raimy, a young girl in the elementary school Ayesha was working at, and some chance encounters, Ayesha finds herself risking her own safety in an underground environmental gang ring. I won’t spoil all the ups and downs and ultimate ending, but Ayesha Dean’s tae kwon do, faith, and wits will all be used and the last page will definitely leave you wanting more.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I feel like the writing has finally found the perfect balance between description and action, the first chapter was a bit choppy, but once it hit its stride it was smooth.  I was intrigued by the historical detail that was all new to me, and am pondering how to convince the author to lead a tour group through all these places that Ayesha visits.  As always the descriptions of food and architecture and fashion are all so spot on that you feel like you are there.  I absolutely love that religion is so genuinely a part of Ayesha, but it is for her, she doesn’t do it for any one else.  She prays, she wears hijab, she doesn’t drink, she clarifies to Raimy what she can do, she acknowledges possible stereotypes and discrimination, but chooses to move forward and not get bogged down by it.  She is physically and mentally strong, but doesn’t come off as arrogant or judgmental or unrealistic.

I like the diverse characters in this book, and in all of them.  The multi ethnic protagonist has friends from all sorts of backgrounds and it is really refreshing and natural.

FLAGS:

There is murder, assault, crime, drinking and alcohol.  Nothing is glamorized or anything a third grader couldn’t probably handle.  There is a hint of possible romance, but nothing that crosses any lines or standards.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a middle school book club if the majority of the participants are 6th graders as it would not have the same appeal to older 8th graders.  I think they would benefit the most and enjoy the strength and cleverness of such an inspiring lead.  Of the three books in the series, I think this one would work the best for insightful discussion and empathy.  It would great to hear them imagine themselves in her shoes: a foreign country, no family, no longtime friends, minimal language skills and accused of a serious crime. Oh I can’t wait to share this book with my reading friends!

Down and Across: A Novel by Arvin Ahmadi

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Down and Across: A Novel by Arvin Ahmadi

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This 320 page book featuring an Iranian American lead written by an Iranian American is a coming of age story written on an AR 5.2 level, that I don’t think most reading this blog would want their child to identify with.  It is an OWN voice book from what I can gather in the author’s interviews online, and sure many Muslims definitely receive the label of “Muslim” more from others than from their own self identity, but I don’t know that many would want their children seeing themselves in the main character who runs away from home, hangs out in bars getting drunk, picks up girls as a challenge, and basically tells one lie after another, especially while being completely endearing and quirky and someone you really find charming.

SYNOPSIS:

Sakeet Ferdowsi aka Scott, is an only child of Iranian immigrants who really love him and want him to do well in life.  The story opens with 16 year old Scott chatting with his dad at McDonalds about his lack of direction, his lack of interest in his summer internship, and his parents leaving him alone for the summer as they journey to Iran.  Sakeet’s dad tells him of a professor at Georgetown University who writes about “grit” and how grit, not wealth or IQ is the greatest predictor of success.  With a track record of not seeing things through, Scott is told he needs to find some grit and some direction in life.  Drawn to this idea, Sakeet lasts a few days at his mouse poop research internship before become obsessed with grit, jumping on a greyhound bus and heading from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to get help face-to-face with Professor Cecily Mallard.

On the bus, he tries to position his backpack to prevent having a seatmate, but a college girl, calls his bluff and forces him to chat with her.  Fiona is not like most people with her free spirited ways and her love of crossword puzzles, and with her now in his life, Scott’s four week DC adventure is set to be memorable.

While in DC Scott learns a lot about himself from the people he meets, the situations he finds himself in, and in general the freedom from his parents.  He is mistaken as a college student and keeps the ruse running to everyone he meets outside of Fiona, Professor Mallard, and Trent.  Trent saves Scott after he crashes a stolen bike (he didn’t know it was stolen) and is being chased by its owner.  They quickly discover they both know Fiona and the big hearted southern helps Scott get a fake ID to get in to bars, and a job working behind the bar to pay for his time in DC.   Trent dreams about working with his favorite senator, which is a big part of the climax, as is the fact that he has been cut off by his well-to-do family because he is gay.  Throw in an ultra conservative “girlfriend” who Sakeet picks up on a dare at the National Zoo and Sakeet to discover if in fact he has grit.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book reads really easy and smooth, hence the middle grade AR level, but I don’t think any elementary kids should read it, or even middle school for that matter.  As a coming of age book, early high school would probably be the best fit, but with such a focus on drinking and bars, and sex I kind of feel like the rave reviews are coming from adults who find the antics quaint and idyllic as a way for Scott to grow, not as something they would want their own child to identify with.  Online reviews praise the person of color protagonist and the Muslim representation, but really I don’t find either of them overtly influential in the story.  Yes, Scott is straddling two worlds as a child of immigrants and must balance parental expectation with his own mysterious wants (he doesn’t know what he wants), but I don’t know that culture or religion shape him other than his parents not letting him go to overnight camps growing up.

When he is called a terrorist by a drunk guy, or dumped by a girl for being Muslim, he takes it, he doesn’t deny it, but he doesn’t let it really rile him either.  At one point Scott amends Fiona’s statement of calling him a Muslim.  “‘ish,’ I said.  ‘A long time ago I asked my parents what religion I was, and accepted what they told me.  Haven’t gotten around to reevaluating it or whatever.'”  Other’s call him a Muslim, but I don’t know that he every really says it himself, which ironically I kind of appreciate.  In a few phone conversations with his parents he says “Salam” or “inshaAllah,” but there is no Islamic practice or conscious or even expectation in the book.  I think for readers they will respond to Sakeet and his faith based on where they are in life.  For Muslims, they may find such a careless label frustrating and belittling, or possibly relatable.  Non Muslims may understand Sakeet’s practice means Islamic rules are not followed, and those that do follow them more “extreme.”   Islam is fluid and we are all flawed, so I don’t expect a fictional or real character to be perfect, I’m just pointing out what my concerns would be to have this book in an Islamic school library.  As a reader, I appreciated that the author had the character articulate that he is Muslim-ish only, and have other people call him Muslim and have him not constantly use his faith and culture to set himself apart.  He is fallible and growing and he has a lot of parts to his persona not just these markers.  Incidentally the parts he is exploring and questioning and learning about himself as he looks to his future don’t involve Persian culture or Islam.

FLAGS:

Alcohol, getting drunk and hungover, cursing, some violence, theft, nudity, kissing, talk of sex, sexting, talk of making out, a gay character, lying, drug addiction, getting high.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because of the themes and inconsistency of values, also because of the inconsistency of topics and writing style.

Author’s website: https://www.arvinahmadi.com/

Interviews with author:

https://mashable.com/article/mashreads-podcast-down-and-across-arvin-Ahmadi/

https://ew.com/books/2017/08/03/the-hate-u-give-author-angie-thomas-interviews-arvin-ahmadi/

https://www.npr.org/2018/01/27/580837850/a-puzzled-teen-seeks-answers-and-finds-crosswords-in-down-and-across

 

 

She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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After having fairly good luck with the Muslim YA Romance Novel Genre in An Acquaintance and Saints and Misfits, I was willing to give She Wore Red Trainers a try.  Na’ima B. Robert has written a lot of books and this 261 page book was an easy and entertaining read.  There are no plot twists, deep thoughts, or intense drama, its a light read that infuses religion and environment into a story that will be great for 14-16 year olds that have slim pickings of relevant, Islamic, “halal” fiction options.

SYNOPSIS:

The story is told from two 18-year-olds’ perspectives, Ali and Amirah. It goes back and forth and while the perspective is obvious, the bottom of the page identifies the character so there is no chance for confusion.

Ali has begrudgingly moved to London with his brothers and father.  Not very religious before his mother’s death, he and his father and younger brother have made a new start and commitment to Islam since losing her to cancer.  The middle brother, resists this, but isn’t too critical in the story, other than to add a voice to the concept that people have to come to Islam on their own, that the relationship between a person and Allah is not cookie cutter or often simple. 

Amira too has a past and a lot on her plate as she strives to balance her chaotic family life and moving past decisions of her rebellious self.  The two meet and in the brief second before gazes are lowered, they fall in love.  Ok, so it isn’t that cliche’ but it is close.

The two, as the dedication of the book states, “are striving to keep it halal.”  They have a few encounters and the sparks are there, but they both have their own stories and supporting cast of friends as well. It isn’t until the very end, SPOILER, they get married.

Yup. impromptu wedding of 18 year olds.  It isn’t out of left field though, there are passages that contemplate the Islamic merits of a young marriage, and perhaps that is the depth of the book, as far as giving the reader something to think about. That and choosing Islam and actively living it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The stuff that makes the book interesting, isn’t really even the two love birds, it is the context.  The struggle of Amirah’s complex family situation with a mom that has had multiple husbands, and is suffering from depression.  Amirah also has a creepy stepdad (makes her uncomfortable and seems to make sexual advances toward her) and a sketchy past that isn’t really articulated but is hinted at enough to know that she did rebel briefly by running away and experimented with drugs and alcohol before realizing it wasn’t the life she wanted.  She takes tremendous care of her younger siblings, one who is deaf, and respects her older brother tremendously.  Her friends are not overly developed but provide enough diversity that the reader will see themselves in someone even if just fleetingly.

Similarly Ali is fleshed out by the company he keeps.  He has very religiously devout friends, a few rebellious ones and countless opportunities to define who he is.  His home life is a little chaotic, but they’ve gone through the destruction and are in the rebuilding phase. 

I like that the characters are fallible and represent a wide spectrum of religiosity.  The book isn’t political, nor does it discuss culture really, but it is meant for Muslim readers.  The characters throw in Arabic terms and while there is a glossary at the back, the religious rules, the contemplation of hadith and ayats, understanding Islamic divorce and the stress to be well established before marriage make it a book for those that can relate.  I love that part of keeping it halal is that they don’t talk and text.  I know that makes it a bit unbelievable, but I like that the line is drawn and established.

I wish that the past of many of the characters was clearer.  Not overly sensationalized, but a tiny bit more.  I wanted more information on what Ali’s dad’s new job was, and how far away they would be moving.  I wanted to know how Amira’s family would manage without her and the creepy stepdad, would the mom be able to step up and care for her kids.  I wanted more details about Amira’s family in general and why her older brother had to leave his studies permanently in Saudi Arabia, and wasn’t able to just delay graduation.  

I can’t criticize the writing too much because I did read the book in one sitting and it kept my interest.  I didn’t expect it to be deep or thought provoking, so for a light summer read, it was good enough.  I felt like the ending was a bit rushed, and yes there are some far fetched ideas, but I think it’s a romance novel, halal or not, so yeah, there are going to be some places that forgiveness is needed.

FLAGS:

There is mention of hooking up, drug and alcohol use, virginity, and a creepy sexual predator in the stepdad. It isn’t appropriate for middle school, but not so vulgar that one would need to be 18 to read.  I think high schoolers won’t find it too cheesy, and not be shocked by the content either.  Granted it depends on the reader. but I think it is better to be safe than sorry.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider the book for a high school book club. Might have to get parental permission, but I think it works well to consider how to have it all so to speak.  How to live within Islam and be smart about your choices.  The book doesn’t offer a lot to think about and mull over, but if you were a teenager, I would imagine that the book presents a lot of what you are feeling.  There is a lot to relate to in the friends, the deen, the emotions, and the temptations.  It also shows that just because families are Muslim, doesn’t mean that they are not complicated and troubled, a scenario that many would find reassuring at least superficially in the book.

Interview with the Author: http://www.kubepublishing.com/an-interview-with-naima-b-robert-about-her-forthcoming-book-she-wore-red-trainers/