This is not a YA book. The back of the book and about 75% of the story could really make it seem ok for mature middle school and early high school readers, but I’m reviewing it as a “public service announcement,” that it really isn’t appropriate for a young adult demographic. No where does the book claim to be YA, I’ve just seen a lot of people online ask if their 13-16 year old (ish) daughters would like it. That being said, the 351 pages of halal romantic comedy a’ la Pride and Prejudice inspiration, really is a fun light summer read that I enjoyed and feel young college age girls and up will too.
Set in Canada, Ayesha is 27 and still sorting out what she wants in life while considering expectation, obligation, and passion. Born in India, she came to Canada after her father died in secretive circumstances, and with a workaholic mom against marriage, a Nani who once studied to be a police officer, a Nana who quotes Shakespeare at all times, Clara, a best friend, and a flighty beautiful younger richer cousin, this cast of characters cheer her on, gently nudge her, and support her, giving a diverse and nuanced view of what a Muslim family looks like and how they interact. Then throw in Khalid. A very black and white character in his views on Islam, and culture and pretty much everything, and you have a storyline with a lot of potential, twists, and interconnections.
Khalid works with Clara, lives across the street from Ayesha, and has an incredibly controlling mom who has just sent a marriage proposal to Ayesha’s flighty cousin Hafsa. When a conference at the masjid forces Ayesha and Khalid to work together after meeting earlier, tension and sparks fly, and to top it all off Ayesha is pretending to be Hafsa.
Khalid has his own team of supporting characters, Amir an alcoholic- womanizing-homeless colleague who for some reason is considered a friend, a sister who was banished to India and forced into an arranged marriage 12 years earlier, an Islamaphobe boss, and his own baggage regarding his father’s sudden death.
Bring in the Wickham character of Tarek and the cast of characters is complete for all the action to go down at the mosque and give the Aunty Brigade a whole lot of gossip to process and spread.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book is fairly predictable in the major story arcs, but there are a lot of twists that keep you hooked, and the author’s writing is smooth and fluid. Being it is a loose retelling of a classic, I wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised how well the story would stand alone as an OWN voice piece about growing, maturing, changing and willing to challenge oneself.
I love that every Muslim and desi character in the book is different and unique and not a cookie cutter of stereotypes and tropes. Most of the females cover, but they are nuanced in how they do it, what it means, how they carry themselves etc., some shake hands with males some don’t, some are comfortable in bars, some are more reserved, some have never had a boyfriend, some have, and they really show the reader that Islam is a deeply personal conviction and the rules are interpreted and challenged differently for each person. It also shows different male approaches and the internal struggles of doing what you want to do and what you know you should or shouldn’t do in a very realistic non preachy way.
My favorite relationship by far is that of Ayesha and Clara, I love that Ayesha’s non Muslim friend knows that Khadijah (RA) proposed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and jokes about rishtas and frequently asks “What would Nana do.” Seriously, as someone of Paki background, who started covering in high school, who is half American and proud to be Muslim, this is friendship goals!
The book is perfect for the beach, or a day at the pool, it is light and silly and really you just go with the outrageousness of some of the details. There are a few thought provoking themes, but really it is just fun and sweet.
I was really impressed how halal the main story romance remained, however a few of the side stories are a little intense for younger readers and don’t really appear until about 2/3rds of the way into the book. Yes, Clara has a live in boyfriend and there are a few jokes and situations involving hooking up, virginity and porn, along with some characters smoking and drinking and being around alcohol, but then the climax really puts more mature situations on center stage.
Khalid’s sister had an abortion resulting from a pre-marriage relationship and thus was sent to India. Amir shows Khalid a porn website where hijabi and niqabis strip and pose, a website that is discovered Tarek runs and Hafsa is featured on. The website and the pregnancy/abortion really are the crux of the book and it becomes a big portion of the last third of the book. It isn’t that the content is overly detailed, it just what the concept presents. It isn’t salacious or pornographic or titillating in presenting the information to the reader, but the mere presence of it in the story would make it inappropriate for a YA book or younger readers.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
No way the book could be taught in an Islamic school book club setting, however, if the teachers wanted to start a book club, this one would be a great candidate.