Tag Archives: gay

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

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The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

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It has been a long time since I have stopped reading a book because I simply do not want it to end.  Clearly I have no self control, so a day later I picked it back up and finished the 496 pages, but oh what a treat to be swept away aboard a magnificent tale with rich history, Muslim characters, Islamic references, developed fantasy world building, complex side characters, excitement, plot, adventure, and everything else you would expect from the author of the Daevabad series.  The book is an adult read, and I really can’t suggest it to YA readers, the protagonist is a middle aged mom with a foul mouth and a bad knee, there is cursing, and killing,  hetero, gay and demon love interests among the main characters, a transgendered character, sex mentioned, drinking, and magic, it is all part of the story, but it isn’t so in your face that older mature Muslim readers will be uncomfortable.  So why am I reviewing it here, I honestly don’t know.  Clearly it is not to be shelved in the Islamic School Library, but there is so much authentic Islamic centering on every single page, that I want to give it space to remind/encourage us all that we don’t have to hide or water down our faith in mainstream books- not if the writing, story, and characters are so incredible.  I really thought a historically set pirate fantasy would be hard to read, that the vocabulary and references would leave me lost and confused, but it is written so beautifully that the pages fly by and you forget you are reading; it is as if you are watching the story unfold in front of you.  Please consider preordering this book so that publishers know support exists for authentic OWN voice Muslim character led books, I have an e-version, but have also preordered a physical hard back copy here.

SYNOPSIS:

It has been a decade since the infamous nakhuda Amina al Sirafi has taken to the Indian Ocean to plunder and sail. The stories of her have grown and traveled in her retirement, but life is now more about protecting her daughter and fixing her leaking roof.  When her previous life finds her and threatens her, however, she must return to her Marawati, call on her old friends, and put together a crew.  Told through a storyteller, with banter between Jamal and Amina, the fourth wall is broken and the reader knows that the hero will survive, yet the adventures of outsmarting Aden’s defenses, peris, demons, Franks, pirates, and marids to prevent the Moon of Saba from being manipulated is a fast paced chaotic adventure that pulls you in from the first page.  The fairly linear story from one point of view (mostly), connects the haunting past to the trials at hand, as the crew and characters are understood through their captain.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the side characters are nuanced and developed in a way that you feel just as close to them as Amina does, and as she becomes frantic to save them, the reader too is invested in their choices and actions.  Pirate adventure, saving the day, a mom as a hero and a missing demon husband refound, yeah, don’t read summaries of this book, just read the book.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I was surprised at the religious redemption arcs and details that were included on truly every page, from the meaning of the translation of Ayat ul Kursi, to acknowledging past sins and striving to not repeat them, Amina al Sirafi practices her Islam in her five daily prayers, regular supplications, regular repentance, and view of the world and her place in it.  She isn’t preachy, and much of what she faces tempts her to drink wine and fornicate again, but her struggles are really refreshing to see.  It isn’t that she is Muslim and that is the framing for the al-ghayb elements alone, it is so part of her and thus of the book, that you can’t help but feel seen.

The gay character’s lover is mentioned, neither are Muslim, but it is only a few lines in the entire book.  The transgendered character starts off uncomfortable with being forced to marry and hints that she doesn’t feel feminine, Amina pieces together what she is saying and then at the end it shows that she is now identifying and carrying herself as a man.  It isn’t a big part of the text, it has a strong effect on the story and it does touch on God’s view of such things, as the character is Muslim.  The demon love interest SLIGHT SPOILER is Amina’s husband that she thought she had killed, she has had a lot of husbands, but when he turns up alive, she realizes technically they are still married.  He asks her quite often to have sex.  It is usually is just that blunt with no romance or longing, and when they do partake in the act, it isn’t overly graphic, it is “closed door.”  There is killing and murder and deceit and lying and drinking, all things assumed would be in a pirate story.  None of it is overly glorified, but it is normalized.

I really just love the characters and the fast paced action, the book leaves off implying there will be more tales to come and I hope there are.  (I keep writing what I love about the book and deleting it, because you know….spoilers, ahh).

FLAGS:

As previously mentioned: cursing, sex, hetero and gay relationships, magic, fantasy, killing, murder, lying, drinking, drugs, jinn, peris, marids, fantasy, occult, demons, death, loss.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would never do this for a school book club, but would do it in a heartbeat for an adult book club!

 

 

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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I had heard about this 420 page YA thriller and how it was written by a Muslim student at University and the seven figure book deal that she earned. It is constantly described as a combination of Gossip Girl and Get Out, having never seen either of those, I relied on the back of the book and the inside flap to see if it was something I would like to read and suggest my young teenage daughter, (and followers to read). Based on the suspense teasing and plot involving racism, I figured a contemporary YA book set in high school would have some relationship, sexuality, language and drugs, so at the last minute I decided to read it first. Alhumdulillah, I’m glad I did. The book has sex and relationships and sensual encounters between gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual characters on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. I considered stopping, it was a over the top, forced, and honestly a little hard to read at times, but I continued because the commentary on racism and suspense storyline was well done that I was genuinely curious to see the climax and resolution. I write this review as a heads-up and to opine on the lack of mention of the amount of romance and sex in the book and in its blurbs. As a reader and someone who recommends books to people a lot, knowing what the majority of the book is about is helpful. To completely not mention something that is such a huge part of the book is frustrating, and so I’m writing this up more as an FYI, than a thorough and in-depth review. There are no Muslim characters, and the only mention of religion is a side character reading the Bible. Coming from an Islamic School Librarian standpoint, without exception this book would be considered inappropriate.

SYNOPSIS:

The book is told in two alternating personalities, Devon and Chiamaka. Two senior black students at a prestigious private high school. The only two black students. Chiamaka is the top of the school hierarchy, head prefect, planning on Yale for pre-med and the girl everyone wants to be. Devon is a scholarship student who plays music and dreams of Julliard. He flies under the radar and has one friend. When the book opens both are named Senior Prefects at the opening assembly of the school year, and no one is more surprised than Devon. The glory of such an honor is short lived however, as anonymous texts start popping up exposing secrets about the two. The two characters have skeletons they would rather not have exposed, and even though they barely know each other, they eventually resolve they must work together to figure out who is out to destroy them.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the whodunit aspect really had me on my toes. I honestly, however, didn’t like either of the characters at all. The book has a lot going on, aside from the texts and secrets being exposed, that I wish would have gotten more page time. The two characters have very different, but very impactful home lives. Devon’s father is absent and it is learned he was executed on death row, his mom works three jobs, he has younger brothers and they struggle financial so that he has a chance at education. He lives in a tough neighborhood and runs drugs to help out with money. He hooks up with multiple guys in the book, and tries to keep it a secret so that he doesn’t get further harassed by the neighborhood guys, but it seems everyone knows he is gay even before the texts start coming. Chiamaka is Nigerian from her mom and Italian from her father. Her father’s family doesn’t accept her and her mom because of their skin color, so they no longer go to Italy to visit. Both parents are physicians and are never around. Chiamaka has no friends, picks boyfriends to further her power agenda, and spent her entire junior year having sex with her best friend, Jamie, with the hopes that he likes her too. She eventually realizes she likes a girl and hooks up with her. By-and-large for both main characters, only their sexual relationships are really explored, and most of them are brief. Thus it kind of limits the relatability to the characters in other facets of their lives. Not that people and characters have to be like-able, but they have a lot of layers, and it would have been nice to get to know them better as people, not just as shell minority representatives in a system built for them to fail.

Only a few side characters are developed, presumably just enough to make them suspect, but to drop information like one of them getting incarcerated and not explored, one diagnosed with diabetes and told without prompting and then dismissed, makes it feel like a lot is crammed in for no real purpose. As a debut novel by a young author, the writing is obviously amazing. I just didn’t connect to the characters, and the parts of the book I did like were overpowered by parts that I felt were overly forced. I will definitely read anything she writes in the future, although I will definitely research the books more thoroughly know what I’m getting in to.

FLAGS:

There is violence, sex (hetero, gay, and lesbian), cursing, drinking, drug use, drug selling, romance, kissing, hit-and-run, conspiracy, making out, drug dealing, physical beatings, passing out drunk, drunk driving, lying, cheating, racism, bigotry, hate speech, gaslighting, privilege, death, gun violence, destruction, murder, attempted murder, crude language, assault, blackmail, misogyny, homophobia, voyeurism, institutionalized racism, and probably more. Mature content.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is no way I would suggest, recommend, or encourage this book to Islamic School high schoolers.