This 354 page New Adult read is truly Islamic fiction, and as long as you know what you are getting in to, you probably will thoroughly enjoy it. It is Islamic centered, it is preachy, it is idyllic, it counters many stereotypes about Muslims and various cultures, while simultaneously falling into other tropes that define the genre, it has mature framing that is not suitable for younger readers, but doesn’t detail anything that is super “haram.” If you are looking for a potentially halal romance between YA and Adult ages with Islamic messaging this book is a solid choice. If however, you will be annoyed by any of the aforementioned labels, this book will not hold your attention or beg to be finished. It reminds me a lot of Umm Zakiyyah’s If I Should Speak and A Voice books where the story has its own twists and character arcs but it spends a lot of time preaching and setting itself up to tout an Islamic perspective, or concept as well. I wanted to read two books in the “New Adult” category and see if I could spread my reviews to include them, and with this being the second, I think I should resist the temptation, and stick to what my library background familiarized me with.
Told in alternating voices of Intisar and Majed, two individuals in New York City, at different places in their life, but finding that when they hit rock bottom, Islam is the answer.
Intisar is graduating nursing school when the story opens and has only one goal in mind, get married. She has strict Sudanese parents and has put all of her dreams on finding freedom in the perfect spouse. She meets a guy at a friend’s house and they secretly date, kiss, and hold hands. When he ghosts her, she is devastated and reluctantly finds herself agreeing to marry a much older man of her parent’s choosing. Loosing herself in the idea of marriage, she finds herself heartbroken, ostracized and falling apart. She starts to put herself back together slowly by finding Islam, her confidence, and some much needed perspective.
Majed has a famous family: his mother a model, his father and siblings singers, and he manages their careers. After passing out from drugs and alcohol more than once he really starts to examine his life and the road he is on. He sneaks away to rehab and in the process stumbles on to Islam. He is Egyptian, but the family is not religious at all, and infact stop talking to him when he converts. The trials of being a Muslim in New York with no family are not easy, but he feels it is worth it and his journey to Hajj and through loss brings him closer to Allah (swt).
The two stories are parallel and collide slightly in the periphery, but the book ends with them finally coming together and the ever dreaded words of “to be continued,” leaving the reader hanging.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I do like that the story shows struggles when one comes (back) to Islam, it isn’t always a walk in the park, it has challenges and stresses. The book starts each chapter with a verse from the Quran and is very open about what it is. So, while at times, the preachiness did get to me, it was very clear what type of book it was from the beginning and I kept reading.
Some of the side characters I felt needed to be fleshed out a bit. I didn’t understand many of the random friends, how they affected the main character often seemed off, or completely underdeveloped in what was revealed about them: particularly Izzedine, Parita, the girl that married Mansour, the uncle at the Masjid that thought Majed was a spy, etc.. I also really struggled with the presentation of Uncle Munir and his calling Majed, baby, and how he just happened to bump in to him outside the bar, and the kisses. I’m guessing it was meant to show him as over the top affectionate, but it just read as odd.
I like that the book addresses hypocrisy, mental health, and expectations. It doesn’t paint all Muslims as good or bad, nor society at large. The book reads as a journey, and many characters are given a chance to correct their errors and be seen in a new light.
The majority of the book is written well, but right away the book gave me pause as Intisar and her friends chat all through the Jummah khutbah, I get that it is trying to show her disregard for intentional practice of her faith and her “boy crazy/marriage” obsession, but you cannot speak during the khutbah, it isn’t just dirty looks, you truly cannot talk for it to count, and it isn’t even remarked upon, and it made me skeptical of the book for a while. There is a word missing from a sentence on page 161 and at one point a brother in the prayer hall aims a shoe to throw. But you wouldn’t be wearing shoes in the room where you pray, and the mosque has hallways and a glassed off section for women, so this seemed like an obvious oversight that should be fixed.
Drugs, alcohol, lying, overdose, sneaking out, kissing, hooking up, physical affection, violence, temptation, sexual predatory behavior, it is an adult book, so I’m not going to continue listing everything. Nothing haram is overtly detailed or glorified. Ages 17 and up, could handle it.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Too mature for my book club crew, but I wouldn’t mind it on a shelf in the school library.