Technically this book is adult fiction because the protagonist is 24 years old, but the halal rom-com is so sweet and considering the YA options that exist in the same genre, I think high school juniors and senior would do better to dive in to this light, enjoyable, albeit predictable, read over so many of the other options out there. I read the 368 page book in two days, I was hooked and impressed with the strength of all the female characters, the step away from all the stereotypical tropes and the smooth writing style. The book is for everyone and while packaged as a light read, there are some themes of immigration, family, choice, and OWN voice realizations that are presented and explored in a thoughtful and impactful manner.
Hana Khan’s mother owns and operates Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine in Toronto, there are not three sisters, biriyani poutine is not on the menu and business is bad, really bad. The 15 year old restaurant that Hana named when she was nine is struggling even though it is the only halal option in the close-knit, diverse, golden crescent community. When news hits that a new upscale halal restaurant is opening a few doors down, Hana chooses to ignore that the business was struggling and instead blames the new proprietors. They are wealthy, corporate and insufferable. Well, the dad is anyway, the son Aydin, he isn’t so easily defined.
Hana balances shifts at the restaurant, her internship at Radio Toronto and her own anonymous brown girl podcast. Hana, real name Hanaan, comes from a supportive and close family. Her dad was injured in a serious car accident, her older sister is pregnant, and her cousin from India along with a cousin-aunt have just arrived under suspicious circumstances.
As the new restaurant gets closer to opening, Hana finds herself stooping to all new lows to sabotage their success. Encouraged by an anonymous podcast listener who she has been chatting with for quite a while, and inspired by her rebel cousin-aunt, Hana is determined to secure a permanent job in radio, save her family restaurant, and destroy the competition. But, an attack downtown draws attention to growing Islamophobia and forces Aydin and Hana to work together.
In a fictional story where everyone knows everyone both in India and Toronto, crazy family members are endearing and loyal, it is no surprise that the main characters are more connected than they think. As Hana finds her strength to carry on amidst change, she also figures out what direction to focus her energy, her talents, and voice.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I absolutely love the writing. I was invested in many of the characters, not just the protagonist, and absolutely cheered as she gave a nod to so many assumptions so that she could move past them: forced marriage, hijab, acceptable professions, inclusion, etc.. The family is all about choice and not getting hung up on stereotypes show the power that OWN voices have in telling stories that resonate with everyone. The book is full of religion, from waking up for fajr, to listening to the khutbah at jumah, going to the masjid to find peace, and believing in destiny. It is not a preachy book by any means, but the characters are Muslim inside and out. The traditional family does not pressure Hana to get married, her sister’s marriage was a love one. She is often alone with her male cousin or brother in law, or best friend Yusuf. She knows who she is and her family trusts her.
I love the food, the insight of immigrants and family. I was particularly moved by her articulation of being told by outsiders what it means to be Muslim in Canada, or an immigrant and then not being listened to when pushed back upon. Her challenging a teacher on what the fourth pillar of Islam is and not being heard, resonated profoundly.
Within the first 100 pages or so the reader figures out who everyone is and how they are connected, save one surprise, but it is like watching a favorite movie, you keep going because it is fun, and enjoyable and the point isn’t to figure it out, but to enjoy the ride.
There are relationship threads, but nothing more detailed than a hand touch after a funeral. Her best friend Yusuf marries their best friend Lily an Agnostic, knowing that both families are against it. There is music and racist talk and vandalism.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The high school book club usually tries to include a halal romance novel for the loyal participants that clamor for it in the group and I plan to suggest this one to them. For as light and straightforward as the book is, there is a lot to discuss when the surface is peeled back. There would be lot to explore from her podcast, internship experience, and her hate crime experience, that the romance part will be seen as simply a vessel to more profound issues to explore.