Tag Archives: small town

Piece by Afshan Malik

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Piece by Afshan Malik

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This 168 page young adult book from Daybreak Press focuses on a small Muslim family in Texas, that has their own stresses and interpersonal relationships, but are thrown in to a whirlwind when the father of the family returns home from a medical mission to Syria and finds himself in the psych ward broken and troubled.  The effects each of the character’s struggles have on them as well as those they care about, makes for a haunting yet relatable read for fourteen year olds and up.

SYNOPSIS:

The Jamal family is made up of Hannah and her older high school aged sister Noreen and their physician parents Dahlia and Adam.  Hannah runs track and is more introverted in handling friends and her father’s life altering condition.  Noreen on the other hand is ultra organized and rational in her approach to life, much more like her OB mother.  To cope with the stress of her father’s return she commits herself to more clubs at school and staring at her phone.

Hannah doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends, and when the track team understands that Hannah’s dad is dead and Hannah doesn’t correct them until later, her comfortable acquaintances turn on her and she will have to learn to stand up for herself and use her voice in the course of the book.  Noreen’s character arc is a bit more dramatic as her involvement in yearbook club brings new people in to her life, mainly a boy, who might not be as a genuine in his goals as she is, and thus their climax results in a trip to the police station.  Dahlia has a close friend, and Adam has a few as well, but the story really stays pretty streamline in exploring the relationships of the family and how little things and big things affect them all.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book takes on a serious issue like PTSD and is framed in such reality.  The scene where the dad blurs his past memories with the current real happenings, is done very well.  It conveys how fractured his brain is while showing the stress his situation lends to the mood of the home is powerful. There is also a very real situation of attempted physical and sexual assault that occurs when Noreen finds herself in a position with a male classmate who attempts to take advantage of her.  The book holds back in details, and she is able to defend herself, keeping the book clean, while still implying what his intent was, and how fortunate she is to get away.

More superficially, but also more relatable is the girls bickering and fighting and pushing each other’s buttons, and the mom trying to help, but is alas is frequently at a loss at what to do with them.  The situations the girls face at school are probable and relatable that I think a lot of middle school and high school readers will see themselves trying to balance extra curricular activities, friends, finding a quite place to pray and keeping their hijabs coordinating.  The family is Muslim and they dress the part, talk the talk, and pray together regularly.  Islam is very present, but not preachy, it is just what the characters believe and what they use to shape their view of many of the tests they are facing.

There are a few hiccups that are worth noting, but don’t overly deter for my appreciation of the story.  I struggled with the writing style in the first few chapters.  It took a bit to feel a connection to the characters and get what was going on sorted out.  It is written in 3rd person omniscient (I believe, it’s been a while) with each chapter more or less focusing on one of the four main characters.  As a result a handful of times the narrative gets awkward in explaining what one of the characters is doing or thinking, because the focus is on someone else, or the timeline overlaps a bit.  It doesn’t happen an awful lot, but the book is under 200 pages, so it is annoying that it happens at all, let alone more than once.

Story wise the characters seem oddly isolated.  The book tells us how small the town is, and shows us how everyone knows the parents regularly, the girls seem to be pretty lonely.  There isn’t any warmth from the schools or neighbors in helping them deal with their dad coming home so wounded.  In a town they have lived in for so long, this seems off to me.  Also if the town is so small, and the family so religious, there is an imam who visits once, you’d think there would be more of an Islamic community presence for the mom and girls to find support from.

FLAGS:

There is violence in the remembering of what happened in Syria.  There is some Islamaphobic talk as Hannah endures some verbal bullying and the attempted physical and sexual assault on Noreen.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this as a possible middle school book club choice.   It tackless some big things, and uses Islamic boundaries to talk about mental illness and sexual violence which is a huge plus when addressing our youth.  Noreen isn’t in a relationship or even overtly infatuated with the guy who puts her in a compromising situation.  But even if she was doing something “wrong” what he did is not ok, and the fact that the authorities believe her, and she plans to discuss it with her mom, and she is not further victimized by speaking out, is something our kids need to see and understand.

There are discussion questions at the end and I think males and females will benefit from reading and discussing this book.  Unfortunately, and possibly the only other disappointment in the book is the price.  Nearly twenty bucks for a short YA paperback book makes it hard to buy classroom sets for such activities, and I’m sure will even keep the avid reader debating whether they should purchase it or not.

 

Unlikely Friends by Sahar AbdulAziz

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Unlikely Friends by Sahar AbdulAziz

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Another wonderful book by a Muslim author that doesn’t discuss Islam, but is expertly written and such a great read, that I wanted to highlight it here on the blog.  At 293 pages and involving a teen character I was really on the fence if this would qualify as “young adult,” so I reached out to the author to ask, and she, mashaAllah, responded! Unfortunately, she felt it wouldn’t quite qualify, even though it is a bit of a coming of age story.  So, why am I still reviewing it?  Because I think high schoolers (muslim and non) would really enjoy the book, and with finals nearly over, anyone in that demographic looking for feel good story that is pretty clean (Ramadan is nearly here), I think this book would be a great choice! And full disclosure, yes I’m biased, the librarian is the hero!

SYNOPSIS:

Told from multiple points of view the linear story brings together two introverts, Irwin and Harper, that have a lot of real and serious issues pressing them.  Their traumatic back stories are slowly revealed as the two unlikely friends come together to deal with their current predicaments.

Irwin is an old ornery librarian that doesn’t like people or change.  He is set in his ways and the stubborn Harper, a young high school student for some reason latches on to him.  He tries to shake her, but finds he is genuinely concerned about her and despite his better judgement finds himself helping her and getting tangled in to her messy home life.  

Surrounded by a cast of developed and diverse characters the fictional world of Irwin and Harper is both believable and realistic.  Irwin’s author neighbor is losing her memory, slowly, but noticeably, his deceased fiance’s daughter passes away shaking his routine, and his colleagues at the library are funny and annoying in their own ways.  Harper’s father is released from prison and her mother must make a stand to resist falling into old drug habits, all while trying to make ends meet and put food on the table.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it reads so very smoothly.  You feel Irwin’s shell cracking and you see that he is so much more than just a stereotypical grumpy old man.  You also see Harper’s mother, Olivia concerned that her daughter and an old man are becoming friends.  You probably could predict how things will end up, but the way it is written you aren’t really worried, you are just enjoying getting to know the characters presented.  Overall, it really is a great lens to remind us all that friendship, real friendship is incredibly valuable.  In a world of filters and digital everything, sometimes our humanity is all we have.  I also like that people are given the chance to change and grow, the group of main characters are not stagnant or one dimensional, their challenges and dilemmas are brought in to the open and you feel for them as you would a real person.

The only two questions that stood out as inconsistent with the characters and story development are why didn’t Harper just get a job to help out her and her mother’s financial situation? Plenty of teens have jobs, so that seemed a little off to me.  Secondly, Olivia works at a supermarket presumably or a market of some sort, so it would seem that an employee discount or nearly expired food section would make their food insecure situation a little less severe.  Granted its fiction, but these two jarring concepts seemed to hold me back from completely being swept away.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean in terms of what is explicitly conveyed.  The details that make it possibly/probably not suitable for younger readers are the drug histories of Harper’s parents and what they did to acquire drugs, what they did when on drugs and what was allowed to take place around Harper when she was a child.  Darren, Harper’s father, believes that Harper was sexually abused by someone when he was high and this memory haunts him.  It isn’t explicit, but it is there.  Some mention of Olivia waking up in dealer’s beds is again mentioned in passing, but not detailed.  One could imagine two druggies trying to raise a child and get their next hit, but a lot of the understanding will come from the prior knowledge the reader has of such scenarios, not from the text itself. 

There is the idea that physical abuse was common between Darren and Olivia and is shown in Darren’s temper when he throws a vase against a wall after coming to Olivia and Harper’s home when released from prison.

There is some mention of Irwin’s fiance’s relationship with her ex-husband in that he cheated on her regularly.

So definitely, the book has elements for older readers, but the way the topics are discussed: drugs, abuse, infidelity, are not glorified or even detailed, more they set the stage in defining the current conflicts the characters face, the pasts they must over come, and the environments that they want to improve upon.  I think 15 and up could handle it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m thinking to recommend this book to the Sister that runs the high school book club.  I think there would be so much to discuss and myths to dispel that an older group would benefit from the experience and work the author does and writes about in this book.

Plus the fact that the author so easily responded to me, might inspire a group of teenagers to reach out and be equally inspired.