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Mark My Words: The Truth is There in Black and White by Muhammad Khan

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Mark My Words: The Truth is There in Black and White by Muhammad Khan

This 304 page YA/Teen book was surprisingly well written, gripping, relevant, and engaging.  I say “surprisingly” because the cover and title don’t scream pick-me-up-and-read-me, at all.  If I’m being completely honest, it looks like a self published book from the 90s, not one about to be released on June 1, 2022.  Appearances aside, it reads real and raw and even though it is very British and I didn’t understand a lot of the slang or the framing, I still was very invested.  The main character is Muslim and while part of the plot is focused on her identity, it isn’t her doubting herself, it is her in all her facets taking on stresses in her life, sticking up for what’s right, and going to bat against some very heavy hitters in the community.  The book has drugs, parties, racism, islamophobia, lying, crushes, cross dressers, gay and straight characters and relationships, privilege, assault, theft, robbery, language, hate crimes, talk of condoms, rape, sexual assault- it is raw, but the Muslim characters know who they are and engage in the environment around them as informed practicing Muslims.  The main character wears hijab and when she goes undercover she wears a wig and that conversation with herself if it is ok or not takes place, as she starts to have feelings for a boy and she tries to justify if it is ok for her, that conversation in her mind also is written out, many of her friends are of different sexual orientation and there is no judging or preaching, she accepts and celebrates them and they do the same for her. The drug use is never glorified and racism and misogyny are called out. The author is a teacher and it states in the backmatter the role his classroom and the students have in his writing and I think it shows.  The book says ages 12 and up, but I think for the content, critique on systemic racism, details about drug and drug use, gentrification, and media bias, the book is better suited for 16 year old readers and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Fifteen year old Dua’s school is under renovations which means her whole grade is being integrated with students at Minerva College, an elite private school on the other side of town.  It is an exam year, and what should be a dream for hard working Dua to get a foot in the door at her ideal school, quickly becomes anything but.  The kids from Bodley are made the scapegoats for a growing drug problem and the journalist in Dua is not standing for it.  When she doesn’t make the Minerva paper, she decides to start her own, and the dirt her and her news crew start uncovering isn’t mere gossip, it is outright illegal.  While journalism starts taking over her school life, Dua’s home life is quickly crumbling.  Her mother is falling apart mentally, failing to get to work, and struggling to keep her own demons at bay.  When Dua’s slightly estranged father tries to step in to help, Dua has to reconcile her past relationship with him and find a way to move forward.  In between all the drama at school and home is Dua’s time on the basketball court, and star Minerva Rugby player, Hugo, has taken an interest in her Kobe sneakers, and her.  The two spend some flirty time on the court leaving Dua with some decisions to make, and her questioning who to trust as everything starts to blow up.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love how fierce and strong Dua is.  Yes, she over does it at times, but just as fiercely as she pushes for what is right in her mind, she acknowledges her errors and works to correct them.  She is Muslim because she is Muslim it is never a label she wears for attention or for someone else, it is who she is.  I love that there are also Muslim side characters including the principal.  Dua and Huda, another girl at school are always getting mistaken for one another, which is a great OWN voice (even though the author is male) inclusion.  Additionally Huda has a boyfriend, and when in the midst of a conversation she refers to him as her fiancé, Dua freezes, and Huda explains that they are getting married as soon as they turn 16 since dating is Haram and their parents all know.  I love that there is no explaining or judging at 16 year olds getting married, it just is what it is. Most of the book is written in that tone, that there are girls wearing hijab, and yes it gets pulled off at some point, there are guys writing make-up columns, there are gay guys explaining sub groups within the minority, but it all comes across as judgement free.  When racist, or homophobic, or Islamophobic, or misogynistic, or classist comments are made, other characters call them out, not to debate or preach, but to just emphasize the live and let live tone the book seems to advocate.

I was thrilled to see Dua’s best friend Liam wears hearing aids and that is very much a part of him, it isn’t a label stuck on and forgotten.  It is joked about, it is a daily presence and the author notes it in the backmatter as well.

There were some side storylines that felt a little under devolved, I would have liked a stronger emotional arc in Dua’s mom’s mental health deterioration, as well as what drove her parents to divorce.  The book is fast paced, so I wouldn’t want a lot more back story, but a little more to connect with would have been nice.

Honestly it took a few attempts to get in to the story, just because I’m American and the book is British.  I finally just read through the first twenty pages and kept going and then I was fine.  I know that is my own bias, but it is worth noting since the title, and cover aren’t attractive and then once you start it isn’t immediately clear what is going on, that some determination might be required before the book becomes difficult to put down.

FLAGS:

Drugs, drug use, sexual assault, physical assault, corrupt police, racial profiling, gentrification, systemic racism, media bias, partying, deception, bribery, expulsion, mental health, bullying, cross dressing, relationships, attraction, misogyny, hate crimes, threats, corruption, property damage, theft, stealing, cursing, language, alcohol consumption, dealing, to name a few, it is a contemporary high school setting with students taking on racist elitists.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I know the flag list seems long, but I think there is a lot of sleuthing, action, character and story building and investment that give the book a lot of heart.  I think it could be shared in an Islamic high school and would result with some amazing discussions.  If you want to grab a copy, you can go through this link that will benefit me, I think Amazon gives me 2.2% back, lol, but when you pay for your own books, truly every little bit helps! Happy Reading!

The Most Pleasant Festival of Sacrifice: Little Barul’s Eid Celebration by Munise Ulker Illustrated by Beyza Soylu

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The Most Pleasant Festival of Sacrifice: Little Barul’s Eid Celebration by Munise Ulker Illustrated by Beyza Soylu

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This book is beautiful, it feels great in your hands, the raised glitter embellishments in the illustrations, the price point, everything except the text.  The gist of the story is even fine, the execution is just off.  It reads very much like it has been translated from another language in to English, and yes my privilege might be showing, but the phrasing, the passive voice, the orphanage, all make the book with its massive text passages hard to convince kids younger than 7 to sit through.

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The story starts off with parents and two kids , Murad and Batul, driving to a friend’s house for dinner, commenting on the Christmas decorations that they see.  The parents ask what the kids know about Eid al-Adha that is coming up and the kids remember how much fun they had in Turkey.  Except it is really awkward to get this bit of information out.  They discuss Eid last year, and then remind each other that they were in Turkey, and how it was much more fun.  Noting that international travel is expensive and they won’t be able to go again, the Mom over dinner discusses how they can make Eid fun for the kids with her friend.

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It is decided that the Muslim and non Muslims will celebrate together and include a local orphanage.  “Each Muslim family would be responsible for buying new clothes for two children from the orphanage, and they would take their own children along to do the shopping.” This would teach the kids to thank Allah and learn about community and sharing.  A great lesson overall, again just a concept presented in a really wordy, round about, awkwardly forced manner.

The Mom contacts the library and gets permission to decorate an information table, the kids make Eid cards for their grandfather in Turkey, at Sunday school they make gifts for friends.  They learn about Zakat and sacrificing an animal like Allah commanded Abraham to do, they even send cards to their neighbors.  Oddly though remarking how fun it is to get candy outside of Halloween.  After the first two pages explaining Christmas and telling that Muslims don’t celebrate it, I found it odd that they would, 15 pages later, be referencing Halloween. 

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Some of the sentences also don’t made sense.  About half way through I didn’t understand what the author meant by the boys “celebrating each other’s Eid” after they put their new clothes on and went to Eid prayer.

Once at the party, they give specific details of how much they charged everyone, yet no details about the food they all brought.  The kids enjoy a pinata and everyone including the orphans get Eid gifts.  Despite everyone’s fun the party has to end, and the orphans return to the orphanage and Murad and Batul declare they “will always remember this Eid.”

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The illustrations are great, it is really yet another example of a book just needing a good editor.  From the very beginning, even the title isn’t really right, the book isn’t even mainly about Batul, to the random details shared, the book is just too long and too unpolished.  It is really unfortunate, because it has so much going for it on its 32 pages.  The main points however, I feel are lost about Eid and the reason it is so dear to Muslims everywhere.