A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
You guys have no idea how much I needed a book like this to exist!
A book that does not sugarcoat Islamophobia.
A book that is bold and is feminist.
A book that illuminates the struggles of a Multiple Sclerosis patient with respect and dignity.
A book that also is not afraid to exhibit the inhuman conditions migrant workers in Middle East have to work in.
A book that at its core is a love story.
I can’t begin to describe how much the story resonated with me. It felt very personal to me. Like Zayneb, I also have a part inside me filled with bitterness about having my faith questioned by others. It is not easy, having to choose not to justify myself and my ideals, because my religion tells me to quietly practice my faith. A part of me wants to be like Zayneb, to let out my anger, to be rebellious, to be loud and to not let injustice prevail. This is a character that I could empathize with fully. She is not perfect. But she is not weak. This is a brave and strong girl.
Adam is the softest guy. His struggle with being diagnosed with the same disease that he lost his mother to at a tender age of 9, was so tragic and brave. The tough decisions he has to make, because of his illness, just makes you love him more. His considerate nature towards his father and sister, who are both amazing, made my heart melt. He is such a kind guy, his nature an open book! His way of looking at life so mature for a young man.
Zayneb and Adam are both similar in some ways. They are both wearing down with the cards fate has dealt them with. Zayneb has been suspended after confronting her Islamophobic teacher in high school. Her parents decide to send her to Doha to spend two weeks with her aunt. Adam, after being diagnosed with MS, stops going to his College classes. They both meet in London airport, a layover for Zayneb, on the same flight to Doha, where Adam’s father and sister live. Adam notices Zayneb’s hijab first, signifying that she is a fellow Muslim, and then her Marvels & Oddities journal, that he also happens to own. Theirs is a mutual attraction. It also helps, that Zayneb’s aunt happens to be a teacher in the school Adam’s father is the principal of, and a friend of his late mother.
I loved Adam and Zayneb’s growing friendship, how they mutually find their way to each other. And I love how they are so respectful of each other’s limits. They are different too. Zayneb is loud when Adam is quiet. Zayneb is brash when Adam is considerate. Their experiences are also very different. Being a Muslim is not the same as being a Muslim who wears hijab. (Who would know that better than me? I don’t wear hijab but I’ve seen the prejudice my hijabi friends face even in our Islamic country.) So Adam tries to look at the Islamophobic instances with understanding eyes, while Zayneb, the victim, cannot afford to spare this kindness. On the other hand, Zayneb does not understand Adam’s hesitance and delicacy in dealing with his family when it comes to his disease. But they both grow to learn to put themselves in each other’s shoes.
The supporting cast in this book was amazing. Zayneb and Adam both have different sets of friends who are separately supportive and protective of their respective friends. I also could relate to both their families. Adam’s family particularly are the sweetest! Zayneb’s parents are more reluctant in supporting their daughter’s rebellious nature, but her aunt is super-badass! And I could totally understand where her parents are coming from. There’s also a sad sub-plot with the death of Zayneb’s grandmother, which made my heart ache!
This book made me laugh, cry, rage and just feel so much! But this is a book for everyone, because it is about two individuals who are strong and brave, individuals a lot of us can empathize with. I wish we get more powerful YA books like this that boldly tackles important issues with respect and boldness.