Tag Archives: culture

The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy

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The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy

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This culture rich, American set, upcoming 416 page YA book proudly shows the characters’ Islam as it shares a story of pain, privilege, guilt, adversity, hope, and family dynamics.  The book is an easy read that is hard to put down, and is remarkably clean for the threads of romance, war, and mental health that permeate the pages (note that here are triggers of loss, separation, death, suicide, drowning, trauma, hate, and bullying).  There, however, are also some plot holes, contradictions, and weak threads that I feel obligated to note, but ultimately don’t make the book a bad read.  I think 16 year old readers, both Syrian and not, as well as Muslim and non Muslims will benefit from the characters sharing their lives and peeling back surface layers to show an intimate account of expectation and obligation for Syrian American girls in today’s world with the backdrop of war in Syria.  The book’s first few pages are powerful in their Islamic centering and unapologetic normalizing of salat and hijab and identity. The Islam in the forefront fades as the story progresses and I don’t think I can sign off on the relationship between two characters as being “halal,” but starting the story with fears of praying on the side of the road as a mom’s concern is next level.  Most book parents are trying to get their kids to pray, in this family- prayers are happening five times a day and on time, so the worry is knowing where you are when Maghrib time hits, because it obviously won’t be missed or delayed, alhumdulillah.

SYNOPSIS:

Khadija’s mom is queen bee in the tight knit Syrian community in Detroit and Khadija does not fit the mold of what the queen’s daughter should be.  It isn’t that Khadija is a rebel, she loves her mother, her faith, her roots, and well, boxing.  Khadija is wealthy, and privileged and so much of what is expected is for appearance sake only.  Khadija knows this, and takes boxing lessons for free in exchange for helping keep the gym clean as to establish this as her own thing, no strings attached.  When Khadija’s mom takes in a Syrian refugee and her daughter, Leene, Khadija has to figure out if she is threatened, jealous, or impressed by the new arrivals and what that means about her own family.

Leene shares the narrative with Khadija and shares her transition to life in America and in the Shaami home along with her past.  The loses she has faced, the obstacles overcome, and the secrets she keeps in order to face each new day show glimpses into the destruction of the Syrian war on a way of life and the beauty lost. 

The two girls are at odds with each other for much of the book, but as their stories start to intertwine, they find themselves with similarities and strengths that show they are a benefit to each other, despite their stubbornness and fiercely independent personalities.  In a race to reclaim what was once lost, the girls start to trust each other, and when family is further threatened the two girls allow themselves to be vulnerable and work together to save what matters.

Clearly I am trying not to spoil the book, nor takeaway from the climax, but I think most that start the book, will find themselves glued to the pages and will understand why I am choosing not to disclose too much.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The first chapter completely blew me away, I loved the idea of such a strong hijabi girl boxing and being so unapologetic about her Islam and culture.  I must admit I cried at the end as well.  It was tied up very neatly, arguably too perfectly, but there were tears none-the-less and no matter what I critique about the book, I was moved by it. The writing is engaging, and entertaining, no doubt, but alas, I have some questions, lots of questions in fact: How did the mom’s meet? One is super posh and high class, the other refugee with very little, how did their paths cross? How did Leene convince her mom to let her travel even if the ‘why’ was kept hidden? After everything they have been through wouldn’t being left to travel to the Middle East be a huge obstacle that needed to be overcome, it reads inconsistent and unbelievable. How hard was it for the “girls” to leave the “boys,” I would imagine it was devastating, yet it didn’t even get a mention.  

What changed so much about the family dynamic when they stopped going to Syria, the author shows the joy of Syria and being together for the family, but I think if you are not Syrian and do not know Syrians well, some of this thread, is going to fall short.  I talked to @muslimmommyblog and could see the reflection of the characters for her, but if I didn’t have her shared experience to flesh out the characters, I don’t know that I would have understood the weight of the guilt, the helplessness, and the frustration.  Similarly, only through talking to Shifa did I understand the pressures of being an American Syrian girl, if I’m being honest, Khadija the majority of the time, just reads whiney. Other family dynamic questions involve the dad and brother.  Was the dad always so absent? It must not have happened overnight, right? And exactly how old is Zain? He reads like he is 12, but he is in high school? Additionally, high school graduation is very important for both girls for very different reasons, but their is no talk of college or career plans, which was noticeably missing from the book.

Then there is the angsty storyline of Younes.  The perfectly selfless guy who doesn’t center his Islam as much, but does want to have a prolonged engagement.  What does that even mean, and how will that be ok Islamically, with them already laying on the 90s Bollywood style glances and loving confession?  Also why does Khadija frame morality through an Islamic lens for most things, but for the relationship resorts to worrying about what her mother will be ok with?  And was the family ok with Younes? How is he at the BBQ? Speaking of places he shouldn’t be, how was he at the party Nassima isn’t Arab enough for, when she at least speaks Arabic and he does not?

I think it best to just enjoy the story for what it is, not look too deep, not ask questions, and just enjoy the rep, the story, the characters, and the emotions released with the climax and conclusion.

FLAGS:

Romance, crushes, road rage, bullying, Islaophobia, mental health, death, killing, war, destruction, suicide, drowning, abandonment, separation, loss, grief, rebellion, angst, lying.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would not work for a middle school book club, and I really should say that this wouldn’t work for a high school book club either, but I know many older high school girls that would absolutely love this book and I think it might be possible to convince them that the relationship is more than the text shared, and was approved by the families and made halal.  Considering so many holes exist, it might be possible to control the narrative in a book club setting on the permissibility of the relationship.  It would definitely depend on the girls reading the book and I would strongly suggest that whether you read this book in a group or hand it to a teen, that you make it clear what a halal relationship looks like and that this is a work of fiction.

The book releases in March 2023 and as always to show support for OWN voice Muslim character filled stories please consider pre-ordering the book: you can do so here on Amazon.  And once the book releases please purchase, checkout from your library, and encourage your schools to shelve titles to encourage similar books to be published and made available, thank you.

The Great Labne Trade by Eman Saleh illustrated by Eilnaz Barmayeh

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The Great Labne Trade by Eman Saleh illustrated by Eilnaz Barmayeh

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My friend Noura, owner of Crescent Moon Store, said this book was good, so when I saw the amazing illustrations on the cover, I didn’t even look into what the book was about, I bought it and waited impatiently for it to arrive.  When it came I started reading it and thought ok, ok another book about lunch food that is perceived as “other” and the bullying that ensues with having a “smelly” lunch.  But the bullying never really came, and the book was suddenly not about being different, it was about entrepreneurship, and a mother’s love and support, and appreciating good food, and sharing culture, and raging against an oppressive system. Ok, so there was no raging, the book ended with determination and a following of the “rules,” in a very kid appropriate manner, but it was fun and a nice change from the typical storyline in rhyming children’s books.  There is no “Islam” aside from a boy named Ahmed and his sweet hijab wearing mother, but this book will result in smiles for kids preschool to early elementary and encourage business creativity and thinking outside the box.

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Ahmed is not thrilled to be taking a labne sandwich to school and would rather have a pb&j like everyone else. His mom encourages him to “be proud of who you are, appreciate how special you are, stand tall, don’t let other’s make you feel small,” and sends him out the door.  At lunch when the kids start to turn up their noses, Ahmed gets them to try the sandwich, and they love it.

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Ahmed gets an idea, maybe he can sell labne sandwiches to his classmates. Mama stays up late making them and Ahmed sets up shop in the cafeteria. He sets his price, and they sell out, so he increases the charge, and they are still selling. He also is open to trades for those that can’t pay.  Before you know it he is adding dishes to the menu.  Things are going well for entrepreneur Ahmed, until the lunch ladies have had enough and take matters to the principal.

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The 58 page book is not text heavy and the rhyme is fairly good, it is hit and miss at times, but the story is not hindered by it. I did feel like the book took a few pages to set the stage and get into the story. The initial timeline and the “smelly” lunch could be cleaned up a little, but once the business storyline presents it is smooth and enjoyable. And the illustrations, they are perfect for the story and for keeping Ahmed and his dream in your heart.

The book is available here at Crescent Moon or on Amazon.

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Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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For years it has been noted how few children’s Islamic books about grief and loss are available, and while numerous titles have come out in the last few years, it wasn’t until I saw this new book, did I realize how desperately we were in need of a book on janaza.  I love that the author establishes on the first page that this book is not focused on grief, but rather about death, the burial, and preparing to meet Allah (saw) in the hereafter with our deeds.  The beauty is that while the topic is critical and needed, the story is also well done.  It may not focus on emotion, but it has a lot of heart and tenderness, thus making it a wonderful addition to all book shelves for children preschool and up as a brief introduction to how Islam views death, the rituals of burial, and the worship that surrounds it. Packaged with clear text, robust backmatter and absolutely adorable illustrations, I am very happily impressed with this book.

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The book starts with Hamza telling about his favorite day of the week, Saturday, the day he spends with his Nano-ji and cousins, but one day all that changes when his mom gets a phone call about the loss of a community Uncle.  Mom says, inna lillahi wa inna illahi rajioon quietly in to the phone and Hamza knows something is wrong, but doesn’t quite understand why the passing of Uncle Sameer, the owner of the local sweet shop, means he has to attend a janaza instead of going to his grandfather’s house.

Hamza’s parents explain the reward of going, and remind him that we all have to leave this world one day. They recall Uncle Sameer helping bandage his knee when he got hurt and gave him a lollipop.  Once in the car, Hamza wants to know what is going to happen.  His parents explain the ghusl and the body being wrapped in the kafan and the body being put in the ground.

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When they get to the masjid there are a lot of aunties on the women’s side, including Auntie Salma who everyone is hugging and reassuring.  After dhuhr the janaza begins, but it is a standing up namaz, and is very short, and Hamza is confused. Later outside the long box is loaded into the car, duas are made, and the body taken to the cemetery.

At the graveside, more duas are made, and Hamza worries that Uncle will be lonely.  When his father explains that his good deeds will keep him company, Hamza remembers the kindness Uncle Sameer has shown him and makes duas.

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The backmatter contains hadith about what still benefits those that have died, reward for attending a janaza, a glossary, discussion points, suggested activities, and duas.  The book is a great starting point to introducing death, rituals, and answering questions any child might have in a gentle manner.  

I bought the book from Crescent Moon Store 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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At first glance it might seem that this Iranian set book with a chador at it’s core is a political statement.  I do not believe that it is.  The backmatter does state that, “Our wish in writing this book is to add to the growing list of stories for children that demystify this veil (that is too often used as a symbol of hate) and instead present a different view of it as the safe and comforting space we always knew it to be.”  This is an OWN voice authored book, from what I can find online the authors do not cover. It is a warm memory of finding love and humor and safety in the modest coverings worn by a grandmother.   I do wear hijab and I choose to do it based on my understanding of what Allah swt commands, I have never been forced to cover by a person or government, and do not know how that would effect my love of fulfilling a tenant of my faith.  But all that is an aside to make the point that this book to me is not weighing in on Iran’s politics, books are written and slated to be published years before they finally release, and this book is a silly heartfelt picture book about a girl and her chador wearing grandmother heading to the bazaar.

In the bustling city of Tehran, Samira is heading out to buy groceries in the big bazaar for the first time with her grandmother. Samira is nervous that it will be loud, and she might get lost, she asks her grandmother if she can rider under chador on her back. Her grandmother tells her no, she will look like a turtle.

Samira then suggest they walk in a line with grandma in front and her behind.  Grandmother Shamsi says, na, na, na, she doesn’t want to look like a donkey. Various other suggestions involving hiding under the big black chador and staying close to Mama Shamsi are suggested, but all make grandma look like a funny animal, and she declines.

When at last they arrive at the bazaar, Mama Shamsi encourages Samira to not hide but to use her eyes, and ears, and nose to learn about the world around her. Hand in hand, they stick close together, and enter the market.

The love between the two characters is heart warming in the text and truly elevated by the remarkable illustrations.  You love their relationship, you can feel Samira’s nerves, you appreciate Mama Shamsi’s humor to lovingly empower her granddaughter, and at the end you truly long to have your grandma next to you guiding you.

I enjoyed this book and don’t mind one bit reading it over and over again as kids giggle at the pictures and find details they hadn’t noticed before.  The book releases in February, and I hope that presales can reinforce the power of OWN voice authentic tales to be shared.  You can preorder/purchase it here.

 

The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

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The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

This new YA book features Muslim characters, but is not a religious conscious read that fits in the halal category.  There is a lot of Islam: waking up for fajr, celebrating Eid, a hijabi, mention of jummah, but the OWN voice rom com sets boundaries based on Bangladeshi culture and American perspectives.  The book does not other, or have internalized Islamophobia, or fall in to tropes of oppression and rebelling- quite the contrary- it normalizes everything: LGBTQ+ relationships, dating, music, etc.  The book is well written from a literary perspective: easy read, fleshed out characters, resolved plot lines, I wish there would have been more slow burn and heightened emotion, and cathartic release, but it happily held my attention for 388 pages, so I can’t really complain about plot holes or development.  The problem I have as an Islamic School Librarian is the non issue dating and romance is for the characters with their parents knowledge, both lesbian and heterosexual.  The book doesn’t get graphic, in fact there is only a handful of kisses, but there is a lot of hand holding and pdas in front of parents and even a sleepover with a lesbian couple in a Muslim family’s home, again, nothing “racy” occurs, but the normalization is worth noting for those thinking a Salaam Reads book is going to be a more Islamically centered publication.

SYNOPSIS:

Zahra Khan has graduated high school, and while she’d love to be heading to Columbia to study writing with her best friends, she is stuck deferring her admission and scholarships, and hiding her dream to be an author.  Two years earlier her father has passed away and Zahra works in a tea shop to help keep a roof over the heads of her mother, grandmother, and siblings.  In the Bangladeshi community in Patterson, New Jersey Zahra’s mom imagines arranging a marriage to a wealthy family for Zahra to ease their financial stresses.  When a potential match comes a possible reality, Zahra takes control to try and keep the peace and keep her dreams within reach.  In Jane Austin-y feels, a love triangle emerges, friends step up, culture and family touchstones shared and appreciated, and decisions about the future will have to be figured out at 18 years old.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I loved how easy a read the book is, the cultural framing was warm and rich and never overly explained or apologized for.  It is what it is, it is who the characters are, and while at times they push back on the negatives, it doesn’t disregard the love that exists at the core.  Unfortunately, I really struggled though with the ease in which the characters date with their parents’ knowledge, hold hands, cuddle.  I really couldn’t imagine a practicing Muslim family being so supportive of a lesbian daughter in the way that the Tahir family is and allowing a sleepover, nor could I see a hafiz attending musical concerts and Bollywood movies or an imam passing on “love” notes, even side comments about a loan between mother and daughter being paid back with interest felt off.  I know I know, there are lots of shades of Muslims, but the normalcy of haram I feel in a review of this book should be noted. It isn’t side mentions, they are central to the story and large portions of the book.  The reason I also feel they are worthy of note, is because the book includes a lot of Islam as well.  The characters pray and fast and eat halal.  They are conscious of chaperones in some settings and keeping things appropriate.  There is no doubt that the characters are Muslim, but I think intentionally, to avoid perhaps critiques such as mine, Islam is not used as a reason to do or not do anything, Islam is not used in the thought process or conscience of the characters, culture is.  There is no haram police setting boundaries, it just isn’t what “good Deshi girls do.” To be fair, I don’t think the author has ever claimed that this is a halal love story, or that the characters are exploring their Muslim identities, it is a love story that features Muslims is all.

FLAGS:

Straight and sapphic relationships, secret relationships, kissing, hand holding, hugging, lying, music, loss, bullying, interest.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would not be able to use this book, it would be very damaging to be given to a Muslim child from a Muslim teacher in an Islamic school.  It normalizes a lot of haram in a familiar Islamic framing that I think would really confuse YA readers who see themselves and see no push back or consequences for actions they know to be against Islamic ideology.

House of Yesterday by Deeba Zargarpur

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House of Yesterday by Deeba Zargarpur

house of yesterday

While reading this 320 page YA supernatural/contemporary book-I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  When finished- I was bothered that certain threads weren’t resolved, now that I’ve ruminated a bit- I think the vagueness of the author’s prose in sharing her “fever dream” on paper has lingered and the gaps not as troublesome.  The author’s OWN voice Afghan-Uzbek Muslim identity adds layers to a story that is both haunting in the literal sense and familiar in the immigration inter-generational traumas and secrets shared.  Even deeper though, the book pokes at universal themes of regret, holding on to the past, family, friendships, and grief.   The book’s characters identify as Muslim, but the story is not Islamic, nor is there much religion save a few salams and mentions of Eid.  The supernatural elements in the book, whether you understand it to be ghosts, or personified memories, or jinn, are a large part of the book, but are not framed in a belief or spiritual manner, and while some may find it Islamically off-putting, I felt the book explored what the main character was enduring and what the weight of the past was doing to her, didn’t necessarily cross the haram line.  Her father has a girlfriend he is looking to marry, but it isn’t celebrated, and there are close male/female friendships, but the book is relatively clean for the genre and would be a good fit for high school readers and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Summer on Long Island has Sara retreating into herself.  Surrounded by nearly a dozen aunts and uncles and numerous cousins, it is the separation of her parents and trouble with her best friend that makes getting out of bed every morning a challenge.  As a result, her mother ropes her in to helping with her latest remodeling project.  When she enters an old crumbling house one morning to take “before” pictures, she starts seeing things, and feeling things.  Things about her past.  Things about her beloved grandma, Bibi Jan, who is alive and deteriorating from dementia.  What is the house trying to tell her? Why won’t anyone tell the truth?

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the mystery and the chills of the story.  As the reader you aren’t entirely sure where the story is headed, what you are to do with the bits of the puzzle you are given, but the intrigue to find out pulls you forward.  That being said, the book does reads debut, a few of the side story lines are not fleshed out enough to feel important, satisfying, or resolved and they come across as being abandoned.  I would have liked to see more of Sara and her father’s relationship, the details don’t seem to fit, and the continuity seems halfhearted.  At times so does the “night” it all changed with Sam.  I like the interpretive vagueness of the supernatural threads and that they are up for interpretation amongst readers not just at the end, but throughout the book.  I also like the family’s closeness even when they are disagreeing. For most of the book Sara and her cousins aren’t portrayed as particularly close and I didn’t invest time to differentiate one from another, but by the end, I felt that they were grounded and different and relatable, and I am not sure when that change occurred.  At times the writing seemed a bit repetitive, but the lyrical style would then catapult the story ahead.  There was one place that the fourth wall was broken though, and I was bothered by that slip.

Overall I loved that the Uzben Afghan culture sprinkles showed immigrant nuances, and that the love between the generations countered the trauma being shared as well.  The messaging is subtle but powerful long after the last page has been read.

FLAGS:

For the most part the book stays clean, the father has moved on and has met someone he would like to marry, the mom and aunts briefly recall sneaking out to attend a prom decades earlier.  There is mention of a child bride, and swimsuits, tank tops, and cocktail dresses being worn with no second thought.  For a YA book, the flags are incredibly minimal, save the “ghosts”(?). There are flags of a death that is detailed, the book is “spooky” at times, there is mental health, divorce, pain, dementia, abandonment, theft, running away, and fear.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to read this book with some high schoolers.  It is a quick read that would allow for a lot of self reflection, arguments, and entertainment.  The book is available here and releases in a few days, so if planning to purchase, please consider preordering and showing your support.

My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

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My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

This book is hard to read, it hurts the heart, it doesn’t let you claim ignorance regarding the plight of Palestinians, and it shows cruelty,  a specific inexcusable cruelty, in a children’s book that will haunt you and infuriate you for weeks and months, if not indefinitely.  I’ve read a number of Palestine set books, but this one, in its simplicity, leaves me raw.  A child with a rooftop garden that helps feed her family is deliberately targeted by Israeli drones and destroyed.  This isn’t science fiction or dystopian, this is based on real acts.  The book itself threads in themes of hope, of not giving up, of remembering strength of a lost parent, of vowing to move forwards, but the catalyst for it all is not happenstance, and while the details of the occupation and oppression are not stressed and articulated, they are referenced and skillfully present to be discussed with children on their level with the included backmatter at the end.  This book is powerful and should be required reading. It is a difficult read and it has flags, but it is also a glimpse of the reality of our world, and the manner in which this book is told allows for the discussion to taken place with middle grade readers and up. The book is not text heavy, but the nature of the content makes me suggest it for mature children.

Noura, a young girl, is in her home in Gaza when drones are seen just out the window and she quickly pulls her little brother Esam away to safety.  To distract him she tells him about their father and his farm that he used to have in Umm An-Naser.  She explains how the wall cut them off from their land and when the drone noises fade, she takes him up to her rooftop garden to pick green beans.  Their mama works downstairs as a seamstress, and while they wish they had meat, the garden helps them have fresh vegetables.

The next day after Noura gets her little brother ready for the day they head to the roof, but drones arrive and start spraying chemicals on the growing plants, killing them, and sending Noura gasping to breathe.  She tries to cover the plants and swing a shovel at the drone, but it does little to save any of the food and Noura is devastated.

Noura’s mama reassures her daughter that the food can be regrown, but she is irreplaceable, as Noura goes to scrub the chemicals from her skin.  The frustration is real, but determination prevails as the family cleans the garden and begins again, just as their father did.

The last two page spread of the book is a basic map, general touchstones of the situation in Palestine, and the very real drones that fly in to Gaza to surveil, attack, and spray herbicides on crops. You can purchase a copy on the publisher’s website or HERE at Crescent Moon Store.

A Second Look by Hannah Matus

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A Second Look by Hannah Matus

a second look

Ok, so y’all, don’t be like me, don’t judge this book by it’s cover, its inside font and spacing, or even the blurb on the back.  Judge it based on this sentence: A modern ISLAMIC Libyan cultural retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, that is done so, so well.  It is seriously so well written and so effortlessly adapted that for those that know the original by heart you will giggle and be giddy with anticipation of how the characters and plot points are turned Islamic.  And those that have never read or watched the original or any of the many adaptations, will be sucked in and swept away by the story at hand.  Oh sure it needs a few tweaks here and there, but truly this hidden gem sat untouched on my shelf with it’s unattractive cover for way too long.  Alhumdulillah for @bintyounus giving the book a start and squealing with glee until the entire @muslimbookreviewer crew dropped everything and read the book.  Not that it was hard, once started, this book stayed glued to me as I tried to sneak minutes at dismissal, at work, while cooking, and talking on the phone to stay in the world so masterfully created.  The book is  halal, but the characters for the most part are in their twenties and I think I wouldn’t object to older teens reading it, but it is an Adult or New Adult book, in both characters’ ages and readers’ interest and appeal.

SYNOPSIS:

The five sisters in the BenTaleb family are all unmarried, balancing life, school, jobs, and daily stresses as varied Muslim Libyan young women in America. With so many girls, the parents of Jana, Elizza, Maryam, Leedya, and Kawthar are known in the small Midwest community as Abu l’Banaat and Umm l’Banaat.  When two young businessmen from Libya come in to town to teach at the local university, the eligible bachelor’s are sough after and all the drama, angst, longing, and courtship comes to fruition. Throw in a distant cousin who is an imam, a scandal with a younger sister, social media updates, and cultural expectations, and you have yourself a book full of laughs, tears, cheering, and joy.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love how seamless the retelling is, the pop culture references, and how relatable and rich the writing is.  I was blown away by the beautiful strong Islam present that somehow never comes across as preachy, but is so thoughtfully present in presenting ideology, cultural pushback, western conflict, that Muslims and non Muslims will enjoy the story.  I’m fairly certain every Muslim Jane Austen fan has thought how similar books written so long ago mirror the courting etiquette of Muslims, and this book delivers all of those hopes and imaginings: the names of the characters, the opposing perspectives of the sisters- I really can’t stop gushing, and haven’t since I finished the 200 page book.  There is so much Islam, swoon, and it is presented so well.

FLAGS:

As an Adult book it is clean, even as a New Adult book it is clean.  I hesitate to call it Young Adult because it is about marriage, and there is a scandal with a sister, and mention of wedding nights, and STDS and lingerie, nothing is explicit, but for as halal as it all is and how practicing the character’s all are, these few mentions elevate the story from suitable for a 13 year old, to being ok for older teens.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think everyone should read it and come gush with me.  You can purchase the book here.

Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

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Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

This picture book celebrating brown skin, particularly in girls, and specifically from a Desi culture point of view, takes on the notion of dark brown skin not being as ideal as compared to lighter skin.  If this is not a concept you are familiar with, I don’t think that the book will hit home, but as someone who has heard this refrain of staying out of the sun to not get darker since childhood, aimed at my friends and cousins (I turn red and burn in the sun), I do appreciate this owning and pushing back on a ridiculous colorist mindset. I don’t love the “magic” diction choice, and there is nothing Islamic in the book, save some covered heads that could be religiously inspired, or culturally, or even weather related, and I’m not sure if the author or illustrator identify as Muslim, but I’m sharing anyway because I know young Pakistani girls particularly, hear this colonial mindset messaging still, and I support undermining it.  This book is not about systemic oppression and racism and taking up space, this book is internal cultural acknowledgement of a pointless beauty notion.

A young girl begins the book telling of things she loves: trips to Pakistan to fly kites with her Dada, her mother’s dinner parties, swimming, climbing trees, but most of all she loves basking in the sun.  One day while playing with her friend Zoya in the warm sun, Zoya abruptly says she should go in before she gets too dark.  The protagonist counters that she loves all the shades her beautiful brown turns and equates it to magic.

She holds out her hand to show her magical brown skin shimmering, and connects the beautiful brown to the brown clay pot her Nani used to carry water in, the brown shawl her mother wore when coming to a new home, the brown of the henna her sister puts on, etc..  She says her brown skin has its own story of being proud, brave, courageous, soft, sweet, and fearless.

Zoya decides she likes the magic and decides to stay and bask in the sun. The author on the final spread raches out to brown girls to own, embrace, and celebrate their brown skin.

We are All We Have by Marina Budhos

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We are All We Have by Marina Budhos

all we have

In many ways this book reads like a reboot of the author’s 2007 book Ask Me No Questions, there are sprinkled in references to Islamic culture, but nothing about the characters or the author truly show the book to be a Muslim story, or Islam centered.   Much like Ask Me No Questions, the book is told through a female protagonist who is forced to figure out why a parent is detained, what to do now that they are on their own with a sibling, and figuring out why they are being forced to leave America if they are not undocumented, but asylum seekers.  And much like that book, the protagonist is really whiney, entitled, and annoying, as is the mother.  This 256 page middle school/young YA read draws drama from the 2019 Muslim ban and ICE raids, but is more a character based plot than a political focused telling.  Because of the similarities to the earlier published book, and the lack of Islam in the text, and being unclear regarding the faith of the author, I’m just going to write a quick review and move on. The book is a quick read it has flashbacks to Pakistan and in those scenes mentions mosques, Eid, and Ramadan in passing. A few cultural side characters mutter an inshaAllah on occasion and there is a clear #muslimintheillustrations like side character that is remarked to wear a scarf on her head named Amirah, but is barely in the story.  Worth being aware of for younger readers is romance, kissing, making out, between Rania and Carlos, and *SPOILER* that the mother left her husband for another man years earlier.

SYNOPSIS:

Rania is weeks away from high school graduation when an ICE raid casts a wide net and picks up her mother as collateral.  Rania has always known they check in regularly to appeal their status, but with her journalist father killed years earlier in Pakistan, the family fled to America for safety, Kamal was even born in America, it has never been a concern.  As her mother gets taken away, Rania starts to wonder about the secrets her mother has always kept and the truth starts to unravel.  In the process though, protective services takes her and her brother to a shelter where they meet Carlos and escape.  Once on the run, they attend Rania’s graduation, spend months on Cape Cod, gain protection from a congregation at a synagogue all while trying to piece together Rania’s truth.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it touches on the Muslim Ban and the fear that gripped the nation for anyone in the process of being a citizen or trying to travel to the flagged countries.  I wish it would have actually spent a bit more time on that.  The title of the book makes it sound like the family is completely alone and isolated, yet, they are constantly surrounded by people that are looking out for them and sympathetic in their choice not to ask too many questions.  I struggled with liking Rania, when you write a book about people that may or may not have broken a law, regardless of if you agree with the law or not, you really have to make it compelling. You have to get behind the character and their motives, and I never did.  I did not understand why she for example finally finds her uncle or an aunt and doesn’t demand answers, it is like, I’m tired, I’ll nap and we will talk later, no, not believable.  Additionally, I could not get a feel for the younger brother, I get that he is sheltered, but he reads like he is four years old, not that he is in second grade at best, I think he might be in fourth.  Really all over the place.  And the Rania and Carlos relationship, should have stayed awkward.  They at times are like siblings, and when the line is crossed, Carlos even remarks on it, and I think having it be weird, but clear that they have a bond, would have been a much stronger choice.  A lot of the plot holes make the story drag such as what was the problems at the bank for the uncle, but because it is short, I think older readers will get through it. I don’t think I’d suggest anyone read the book, but it isn’t so awful that I would warn too harshly against it.   The characters don’t identify or act Muslim, so when they kiss or lie, it isn’t a reflection on the religion.

FLAGS:

Kissing, lying, running away, making-out. Muslim friend sneaking out, drinking, partying, stereotypical oppressive Muslim dad and meek mom.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that I would throw the book out, but I wouldn’t actively seek to acquire it to shelve either.