This book is a game changer, or better yet: an industry changer. It is about Muslims, for Muslims, by a Muslim- but it is MAINSTREAM and a huge panoramic window for anyone and everyone to see a “halal” fictional Muslim love story in action. With every page proudly mirroring various Muslim experiences this sequel-ish standalone-ish book is unapologetically real, without compromising good storytelling, interesting characters, and engaging plot points. In much the same way Reem Faruqi’s Golden Girl raised the bar for upper MG/lower YA, this book shows that upper YA Muslamic stories can be told. That the publishing world isn’t always limiting OWN voices, and that it is up to us, the consumers, to purchase these particular books, pre-order them when announced and spread the word so that the message is loud and clear that we want more books like this. I have no doubt S.K. Ali had to fight for her vision and advocate for her book at every turn, but now that it is here, we need to step up and show support with our purchasing power. I’ve pre-ordered mine, and I hope you will do the same before the book releases on October 18, 2022, if you cannot, please purchase it when you can, and if that is not an option please request your libraries to shelve the book (and all of her books) and put them on hold so that the gate further opens for mainstream Islamic fiction.
Adam and Zayneb are back after falling in love in Love from A to Z and getting their nikkah done. They aren’t living together yet, though, and they are worlds apart with Adam jobless in Doha, and Zayneb homeless in Chicago. When communication breaks down, exes show up, and a trip to Umrah is underway with the couple divided into gender segregated groups, the couple might fall apart in the same fashion that brought them together in the first place. The steps of Umrah are beautifully highlighted and experienced, and characters from Misfits and A-Z come back to tie it all together and help the couple, keeping hope alive. Throw in some marvels and oddities, artifacts and interpretive labels, a unifying cat, and a whole lot of love, and you have a sweet conclusion to a Muslamic love story.
WHY I LIKE IT:
So, I obviously love the standard of unapologetic Islam that this book offers on every page while still being accessible to the larger audience. It took a little bit for me to be sucked in to the 352 page story, but by page 100 or so, I couldn’t put it down. The steps of Umrah brought tears to my eyes and the awesome Sausun is fierce feminist friendship goals. I honestly didn’t love the cat narrative that frames the story, but luckily it is sparse so I could see past it. I love that this book exists, I think I love the Misfit based duology a tiny bit more, but loved that this book had crossover characters and gave many of them a final bow of sorts as well. I read the book in two days and will probably re-read it when I receive my physical copy. It really is remarkable how much Islam is present in a fictionalized story: not a oppressed Muslim story, or biographical memoir, or refugee story, but in a solid fiction story. There is no “othering,” this is us, and this a love story about a Muslim couple trying to make it work with outside support and stresses, and beautiful writing. Alhumdulillah, very well done.
I’d encourage mature, older YA because the characters are married and sexually active and while it isn’t graphic or depicted it is often just the words mentioning them kissing, and sleeping together and sexting. Nothing titillating or anywhere near inappropriate, but I think a bit of maturity would help it better reflect the values of Islamic marriages and relationships. There is some minor language and hate speech.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would absolutely use the book for high school book club if it is mostly juniors and seniors. I think it gives a good look at what a relationship can look like; the characters’ religious lens and lives will resonate with Islamic school students.