Tag Archives: joy

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

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An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

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This 256 page YA OWN voice book is a real and raw look at a character and the many layers of life weighing down on her.  At the center of it all is a strong Muslim teen dealing with post 9/11 bigotry, the shattering of her family, toxic friendships, and a broken heart.  It is a love story, but it is so much more, as the protagonist’s voice draws you in to her crumbling world from the very first page and has you begging for more when the last page is read.  So often in Muslim-lead-mainstream-romance-themed novels, I want there to be introspection at the choices that the character is making and the internal processing of navigating their wants with their beliefs, and this book surprisingly does it.  There are some kissing scenes, cigarette smoking, cosmo magazine headlines, and waiting for her father to die, but not without introspection. Shadi reflects on her smoking quite often, she questions the repercussions of her actions, and she analyzes her father’s faith and approach to Islam as she forges her own relationship with the deen.  There is mention of a Muslim character drinking, doing drugs, hooking up, and it mentions he had condoms in his car, just those exact phrases, nothing is detailed or glorified, just stated.  There are also threads of mental health, self harm, death, and grief.  The characters are genuinely Muslim and some of their experiences are universal, and some specific to the faith, culture, and time.  Muslims and non Muslims will enjoy the book, and I would imagine relate to different things, but find it overall memorable and lingering.  For my Islamic school teens, I’d suggest this book for 17/18 year olds to early twenties.  It isn’t that they haven’t read more graphic books, but to be honest, Shadi has a lot going on, and if being close to Ali can lighten her load and help her find hope and joy, I’m all for it.  I know it is “haram,” but it is fiction, and it will have readers rooting for them to be together, not a message you may want to pass on to your younger teens.  As the author says in her forward, “we, too, contain multitudes.”

SYNOPSIS:

The layout of the book bounces between December 2003 and the year before.  In a previous time, Shadi’s life was easier, her brother was alive, she had a best friend, her Iranian immigrant Muslim family may have had stresses and issues, but they were a family. In 2003, Shadi is largely forgotten by her parents, her brother is dead, her father is close to death, her mother is self harming, her older sister preoccupied, and as a high school student Shadi is both falling and being crushed by her heavy backpack both metaphorically and literally.

The story opens with Shadi being approached by a police officer wondering why she is laying in the sun, he thinks she is praying, and she doesn’t have the energy to be angry by this assumption, she is exhausted, and doesn’t want to cause any waves that might get back to her fragile mother and cause any more stress than necessary.  So she drags herself up, and begins the walk to her college level math class miles away.  The sun is short lived and the rain begins to pour, she knows no one will come to pick her up.  Her parents have long ago stop being present in her life.  She once had a best friend, but that relationship, as toxic as it was, also has ceased to exist.  So she walks, and she is drenched, and she falls, so she is now soaking wet and bloody.  A car slows down to presumably offer her a ride, but then he speeds off drenching her in a tidal-wave.  The scene is set for the tone of the book. Shadi is drowning, we don’t know all the reasons why, they unfold slowly, but we know that it is going to get worse, her phone is nearly dead and her sister has just called to let Shadi know her mother is in the hospital.

I don’t want to detail my summary as I often do, because the way the story unfolds, would really make any additional information given act as a spoiler.  The book is short and a fast read, but along the way the introspection to the chaos that is Shadi’s life, makes it impossible to put the book down.  Shadi will have to confront her crumbling life and find away to reach toward hope.  She will have to keep walking to avoid drowning and along the way cling to the few precious things that give her joy: an emotion of great delight.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the Islam and real approach to her volunteering at the mosque and calling out racism within the community and diving deep in to understanding is Islam more than just rules and toeing the line.  It was a great mirror for so many nuances in real life, that I will probably re-read the book again in the near future, to enjoy it all.  I absolutely love the unpacking of the toxic friendship.  When women tear each other down under the guise of caring it is brutal, and the acceptance and growth that Shadi is struggling with in regards to her best friend of six years, Zahra. who is also Ali’s sister, is a reminder that sometimes walking away is the only choice.  

The two criticisms I have of the book are: one-that the book is too short, I wanted, no, I needed more.  And two I didn’t understand why Ali’s family and Shadi’s family were no longer close.  I get that Shadi cut Ali out of her life and Zahra and Shadi had a break, but Ali/Zahra’s family still care for Shadi and she for them, so what happened between the parents? It seems that the death of a child would draw the friends out and make them protective, not push them to being aloof.  It seemed off to me and major plot hole.

FLAGS:

As I mentioned above: kissing, smoking, drugs, hooking up, referencing condoms, cosmo headlines, self harming, grief, death, alcohol.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think even high school could do this as a book club selection, because you really want to ship Shadi and Ali.  If you had like an MSA book club then I think this would be a great choice.  I would love to hear teens’/young adults’ thoughts about Shadi’s view of religion, her fathers approach, and how they view passing the deen on to their children.  I think it offer great role-play scenarios in empathy and how you’d react in real life to finding your mother struggling, your best friend taking off her hijab and being so jealous of you, the bullying, the assumptions, understanding your father and where to assign the blame for such a traumatic event that claimed your brother’s life.  There is so much to discuss, and I hope at some point I find the right forum to chat about this book and listen to other’s perspectives about it.

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

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Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

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I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories, but this book has me reconsidering such an arrogant approach, as every single story in this collection has me feeling the warmth of Eid, the joy of authenticity, and the beauty of being a part of a faith with such strong female writers.  Fifteen entries for middle graders in mind: short stories, poetry, and even a graphic novel, spread over 304 pages that shine light on Eid in today’s world,  Eid al Fitr and Ramadan make up the bulk of the focus, but Eid al Adha and Hajj are in there too.  And the best part of the book is that you will see yourself in it, possibly all through out it, but reading such diverse OWN Voice stories are sure to make a Muslim reader feel represented and right at home, and give non Muslim’s a peek at us from the inside, inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

I don’t know how to review the book as a whole since there really are 15 different stories, that are each heartfelt and strong in their own right and yet somehow made better by the company around them.  There were no weak links.  There are stories with bickering siblings, annoying cousins, different cultures, mixed background familes, divorced families, converts’ stories, stories of families where money is tight, stories with illness, stories of loss, a story from the perspective of a refugee, and stories of reaching out of your comfort zone.  There is one story about Eid al Adha and a story starring a Shi’a muslimah feeling different within Islam.  There are stories told from boys voices and girls voices and every single story has a take home message, some more subtle than others, but all there and all real.  I feel like even a summary of a story would prove a spoiler and take away from one just falling in to the collection and receiving the warm hug that awaits.   I’ll leave the summaries to their titles and well known authors to spark your curiousity.

Perfect: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Yusuf and the Great Big Brownie Mistake:  Aisha Saeed

Kareem Means Generous: Asmaa Hussein

Don’ut Break Tradition: S.K. Ali

Just Like Chest Armor: Candice Montgomery

Gifts: Rukhsana Khan

The Feast of Sacrifice: Hena Khan

Seraj Captures the Moon: G. Willow Wilson and Sara Alfageeh

Searching for Blue: N.H. Senzai

Creative Fixes: Ashley Franklin

Taste: Hanna Alkaf

Eid Pictures: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Not Only an Only: Huda Al-Marashi

Maya Madinah Chooses Joy: Ayesha Mattu

Eid and Pink Bubble Gum, Insha’Allah: Randa Abdel-Fattah

WHY I LIKE IT:

I recieved this book as an Advanced Reader (digital) copy and I am thinking I want a hard copy too, (I wasn’t able to view the artwork).  A lot of people ask me and I see postings in various social media groups asking for suggestions of books to read each night as a family in Ramadan, and I think this one would work for grades 3 and up.  Have each kid read the story throughout the day and then discuss in the evening.  Every story will have something that is familiar, probably something new, and each has a teachable moment.  I think different kids will identify with different aspects of the story and to articulate them in Ramadan will really bring the already memorable characters to life.

The book is very well done, and reads very smooth and cohesive, it really has a unified tempo and mood which is remarkable because so many different author’s and voices are included.  The book stays focused on the feeling rather than getting too weighted down by doctrine.  There are stories that feature hijab prominantly, and a bit of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and some slight mention of islamaphobia, but it focuses on the friends and the love that support us, both Muslim and non, that make Eid and life hopeful.

FLAGS:

Clean

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this as a book club book to be hosted just as I hope to do this Ramadan with my own children in my home (see above).  I think really I just want to buy a bunch of copies to give as gifts to the fabulous elementary aged children I know, alhumdulillah.

Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Oh, how glorious to learn something new while having things you know presented so well at the same time.  In 42 pages the reader will feel all the excitement of Eid (it doesn’t specify which one, nor does it really matter), sharing your culture with your classmates, participating in a family tradition, cooking with your grandfather, sharing with neighbors, and learning some life lessons about diversity from the Quran.  Ages 5 and up will enjoy the story and seeing Eid being celebrated, and older kids that know about Eid will love learning about bean pies and appreciate the African American Muslim culture, if they don’t already know about it, and those that do will hopefully feel proud to see it represented.  The best part is that there is a recipe at the end, that I can’t wait to try.

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It is the end of the school day and the teacher is reminding the students that Monday is Culture Day and they need to bring a dish to share, over the weekend it is also Eid.  Bashirah is excited that this is the first year she will get to make her own bean Pie with her Pop-pop who is going to teach her the family recipe.

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At home Bashirah can’t stay still as her mom puts on the finishing touches of her Eid outfit, she is so excited for all the fun about to happen.

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Early the next morning the family all heads out to the Masjid for Eid Salat in their beautiful clothes.

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After prayers its cooking and eating time as Bashirah and Pop-pop make the pies and enjoy a big meal as a family.  Three generations make salat together, food is taken to the neighbors, and then the big reveal.  All the desserts, including Bashirah’s are served, and alhumdulillah it is delicious!

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Back at school on Monday the teacher reminds them all that, “neither our languages or heritages make us better than anyone else.  Allah looks at our good deeds.” She quotes Surah Hujurat, ayat 13 “Oh, mankind indeed we have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.  Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah (swt) is the best in conduct.” And they all dive in to the delicious desserts including Bashirah’s wonderful pie.

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My only criticisms of the book are the margins and the amount of text on the pages.  I have a hard time reading the book aloud to small groups as the margins are so small and run in to the binding.  Also, some pages have one sentence on them, some have nearly a half a page of text.  This disparity can be off putting at the start of the book to appeal to younger listeners and early readers.

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The illustrations are warm watercolor complimentary pictures.  There is nothing wrong with them, but I wish they were just a tad more defined and vibrant like the picture on the cover.  I love the warmth they radiate, but a little more detail would give the listeners something more to look at on the text heavy pages.

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All in all a great book that I am glad I own and can share with my own children and those in my community, now if I can convince someone to make me a bean pie I’ll really be set, alhumdulillah!