In 337 pages I fell in love with the Johnson family and all their drama and hardships, while marveling at their resiliency, love of family, and determination to own their mistakes, right them, and move forward. I don’t know that this Urban Islamic Fiction book is classified as YA (the author didn’t respond when I reached out), but I think high school juniors and up will appreciate either/both seeing themselves in it or/and reading an engaging story about indigenous American Muslims.
A naïve teen, Iman Johnson, ran away from home and her Islamic life to be with a boy offering her the world. After twelve years of being away from home, she sees a window to escape the oppression and abuse of her husband and return to her family who she has had no contact with in Pittsburg, PA. The story is linear as it follows Iman as she deals with the stresses she currently faces while dealing with the consequences of her actions and mistakes of her past. She must reconcile her family, deal with the passing of her father, the failing health of her mother, the tumultuous relationship her younger sister is in, the incarceration of her older brother, and the impending arrival of her little brother’s first child. Ultimately she must also face her husband to get a divorce, keep safe from his mafia like family of drugs and violence and control, find a job, get her alcohol addiction in check, and forge ahead. She also must reconnect with Allah swt, her community and find herself.
WHY I LIKE IT:
It has been over a week since I finished the book, and I can’t decide if the author failed to be consistent with a certain character, or if she made him fallible intentionally to show that there are no saviors and we all have our own weaknesses and humanity, or if I’m just really irate with a fictional character and his poor choices, ahem Jibril. That being said the characters really stay with you, and I feel like I could chat about them as if they are real and I am ready to go start a gofund me campaign to help them out.
The characters at every single step are Muslim and the book feels like a labor of love from the author. I don’t think this is a book that could be researched or written from outside, I’m guessing the author has loved this community and been loved by them in return. For all the Islam in it, I think a non Muslim could read it and enjoy the story, but if you are Muslim you are in for a treat. From the Eid morning bathroom schedule, to the annoyance of having a brother in law staying over and thus forcing you to cover when you run to the kitchen for a snack. Yes, at times, there might be too much information, like how many times does it say she relieved her self and made wudu, but the consistency makes it all so worth it.
I’m being vague about some of the details and not telling too much about the characters, because you really have to immerse yourself in it, and thankfully the author does a great job in keeping it clear who all the characters are, how they are related and what life experiences they bring to the table. Every single character has issues, no one is perfect, yet somehow the story is never sad or hopeless. No one is looking to be saved or playing the victim card, they are all fighting the fight, and taking it one day at a time. It is really impressive.
Sure, most of it is predictable and I wanted more of a showdown between Iman and her ex, Mateo, but yet somehow I was sad when the book ended and I had to leave the characters and their world. I absolutely love how the brothers take turns guarding Iman as if they do this all the time for their sisters. Sure it may not be realistic that they can find someone free at all times, and whatnot, but I really want this to be true. That people still look out for one another, and not perfect people who don’t have their own issues, but real people, family, just people who have made it a priority to care.
There is lying, deceipt, affairs, drugs, drinking, violence, abuse, smoking. But, nothing is glorified or detailed, it is mentioned to make a point and then the story moves on. The book is about succeeding despite all the negative and finding your way to hold on to your deen, no matter what.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think this would be a great book club for like young college girls. There is a tint of romance, a whole lot of pulling yourself up and moving forward, and conversation about what tempts us, and how to persevere. I hope if you read it you’ll shoot me a message, I’d love to hear how much of it rings true for you, and what characters you cheer on and are most annoyed with as well.