I don’t know what it is about male protagonist sports novels, but they often seem to be overly crass and crude. Perhaps that is the real life environment that inspires such writings, or perhaps it is just male voiced YA books, but in this one in particular it seemed to stand out because the storytelling by-and-large is really enjoyable, it just has a lot of flags, A LOT. Beside the language, sexual innuendos, drug use, violence and romance, it also has a few religious and cultural concerns that are possibly just specific to the niche that I review for, but did have me shaking my head out of confusion and sighing in disappointment. To its credit there is a decent amount of Islam featured, some male friendships that are quite heartwarming, and some emotional depth that presents really well. The 312 page book is marketed to readers 12 and up, but there is no way I would encourage the book for anyone that young, Muslim or not. For Muslim youth specifically I would say 17 plus.
The book is told from the perspective of fifteen year old Fawad who lives in Regent Park with his mom and sister. He dreams of being the first Pakistani NBA player and the linear story bounces in time at the start and he sometimes even speaks to the reader, but the story is all his. Regent park is a poor part of town pressed right up against a wealthy part of Toronto and the neighborhood is rough. Fawad is a good kid: he doesn’t go out much after dark since his father died, he helps his mom, doesn’t run with a gang, he gets good grades, loves basketball, and doesn’t have a girlfriend, not yet anyway. The story starts with him reliving the final minutes of a summer league basketball game where he opted to pass out of fear of the ever looming threat of Omar, rather than take the shot himself. Omar ends up missing and they lose, oh yeah and Omar is the imam’s son. Under the protection of Abshir, Fawad’s friend Yousuf’s older brother: Omar, Yousuf, and Arif have someone looking out for them on the streets. Arif has some help from the Bengali crew, and Yousuf is Somali, but there are not enough Pakistani’s to make a stand or demand respect when out and about. When Abshir gets murdered, Yousuf retreats into himself his music and smoking joints, Arif keeps his playboy ways to take his mind off things when he isn’t reciting Quran beautifully in classes at the masjid, and Fawad makes the high school basketball team and finds a girlfriend. Things with Omar physically escalate as well, while things at home have his mom putting in to action plans for Fawad to marry his cousin in Pakistan.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I really like that Islam and culture are presented powerfully with OWN voice strength and detail. Things are not defined or over explained and if you don’t know what haram or Ramadan or an imam are, figure it out. I rarely find myself wishing the ending of books were different. You hear a lot about that in movies, that they didn’t screen well or something, and so the ending was changed, and that is how I feel about this book. *SPOILERS* Fawad and Omar should not have resolved their issues so easily, it was more than a respect thing, there was blood and hospitalizations. We never even knew why they had issues in the first place. Arif and Nermin should not have hooked up. The whole book she comes across as the strong Muslim hijabi that blurs the lines by side hugging her guy friends, but not being ok with it, then she shows up to a dance, and then hooks up with Arif, didn’t like that at all. I get the mixed signals of Fawad having a girlfriend from his mom, and while he seems to be connected to the mosque it never shares that he understands Islam more than just I have to do this and I can’t do this, but I didn’t like him going back to Ashley and wanted him to choose his own self-worth and respect over accepting her apology and going back to her. I do not understand why Fawad waited so long to tell his mother about Nusrat. It was nothing that would upset his mom, I don’t get why he dragged it out. I do love that the cousins were friends or friendly, but were fronting to their parents, but it was unnecessarily dragged out, and the more it got dragged out, the more complicated and intertwined it got with Fawad having a girlfriend.
I did not get the mom and sister relationship at all. The mom seems to have just given up on her, but they seem to spend a lot of time together, so that was a disconnect for me. At first I kind of liked the twist on the stereotype that the boy was not allowed freedoms to go out, but the sister was, but it kind of unraveled in the logic department. I am desi, (half anyway) and the stereotype is that the boys are earning before they get married. So to be arranging Fawad’s wedding at age 15 is bonkers. To be arranging anybody’s wedding at that age is, but it is so contrary to custom, that I couldn’t even ignore it and move on, it was constantly blocking the story from being smooth. The mom’s rationale is that she wants a daughter-in-law to take care of her. Again kind of bogus, but maybe there is some truth there, unfortunately there is the big gaping hole that she, the mom, doesn’t take care of her in-laws, so why the difference of expectation. Suffice it to say the mom and sister are both road bumps in the story for me.
I was impressed at how much basketball play-by-play was in the book and how it didn’t get boring. I love that there were plenty of male role models in the community and that the three boys really looked out for each other, supported each other, were connected to each other’s families, etc.. I didn’t like the abusive religious imam trope. I’m glad that Omar’s dad wasn’t blind to his son, but to be abusive was uncalled for.
I don’t know why Nermin is called, “Arabic,” at one point, that is clearly erroneous and I wish that the condom talk and sexual innuendos were greatly reduced. There isn’t a lot of resolution regarding who killed Abshir, if Fawad caused any permanent damage by playing, or what the future holds for any of the characters and their relationships, but it was a quick read and held my intention and I did quite enjoy the writing.
Lying, violence, murder, physical assault, kissing, making out, talk of arousal, talk of condoms and sex and getting physical. Drugs and alcohol and addiction. Child abuse, theft, stealing, threats.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
There is no way I could teach this to middle school or high school in an Islamic school.