BOOK REVIEW : LOVE FROM A TO Z

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.


review

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.


review

★★★★★


Links – Amazon | Goodreads | Book Depository

QOTW – QUOTE(S) OF THE WEEK : SELF LOVE, PREJUDICE & FEMINISM IN ISLAM

Hello peeps! I hope everyone’s doing okay. Our region just got struck by a cyclone last night. It’s called Fani. Thankfully, my country didn’t get the worst of it. But India’s Odissa region had to suffer the most. Do keep the victims of this disaster in your prayer!

Anyways, it has been drizzling and breezy all day long in my city. The perfect weather for getting warm and cozy with a book and a blanket, right?

So, I just started this QOTW thing last week. This is my second array into it! Fingers crossed! I just read this powerful book that had quite an impact on me. I’ll post the review pretty soon. I loved it so much that I’m featuring two quotes from the book here!


“I’m not going to let your prejudice, your outrage, or fake kindness,
either, change one bit of me, of how I look, of who I am. Your resistance to my
existence is futile, okay?”

“One of the reasons Ayaan said she loves being Muslim is because it makes her feel
like a natural feminist. “Like, hello? Our queen Khadija didn’t wait for the man (Prophet Muhammad) she
had her eye on to ask her, to get on his knees. Nope. Instead, she said, I like you, oh
employee of mine. Will you marry me? And then, after they hitched, she just kept her
job as his boss. Mad respect.”

 


I chose the first quote because of the raw honesty and fearlessness in these two lines! It is bold and poignant at the same time.

I chose the second quote for an entirely different reason. See, I like to think of myself as a feminist. But it’s like the narrative of the Western world dictates that I can’t be a feminist AND a Muslim at the same time. And I just can’t accept that!

Khadija, the first wife of Prophet Muhammad is the first example that I always think of when talk of feminism in Islam comes. So, when I read this quote, I went “Exactly!”. There are other numerous such examples I know of, if you’re interested.

I hope this did not come off too preachy! I just feel very deeply about this issue. And these quotes really spoke to me!

ARC Review : The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

“I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC in return of an honest review.”


From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.


I am at a loss of words.

This is the kind of writing that deserves all the awards in the world. There were so many lines and passages that made me stop and just soak the words in. I was awed by the details and nuances of the writing. The research that went into this must be applauded.

Before I go into the story, I’d like to take some time to commend the author for giving us a glimpse of what the Islamic empires were indeed like back in the day. There’s a lot of misconception about Islam in the present time. And a lot of that is owed to the fact that it’s linked with all things conservative and unprogressive, in many spheres. But back in the days, the Islamic empires were known for their richness in cultures and tolerance, be it in the Middle east, West or the Indian Sub-continent. I could go into details about how Muslims at large were far more progressive and accepting back then than they are now, but this is not the post for that. I’d just like to applaud Wilson for showcasing a culture the details of which have faded over time.

I was overcome with sadness as I read through the beginning. We start with an empire that is about to be lost. Thinking of the realness and the actuality of that part of the story made me melancholic as reading about history generally does. After all, there’s always someone that loses in history. Never a happy thing to read about.

“Let me tell you something important. The real struggle on this earth is not between those who want peace and those who want war. It’s between those who want peace and those who want justice. If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy.”

I love that although this book is a high fantasy, the backdrop is a real historical event. It makes me appreciate the nuances even more. The author blends historical fiction with high magical fantasy in an effortless manner.

There is a wonderful cast of characters each of which had richly stood on its own. But it was Fatima and Hassan who were the heart of the book.

Fatima is a not a character made of goodness. She’s selfish and spoiled. There’s vanity in her. But what I loved about her were her vulnerabilities. Beneath it all, she is a character that just wanted to be loved. The concept of consent that played out in her mind was beautiful to see. The part where she says that she would have perhaps fallen in love with the Sultan if she could have the freedom to initiate her affection, spoke volumes.

“Yes, you were taught to waste your anger. It’s convenient for girls to be angry about nothing. Girls who are angry about something are dangerous. If you want to live, you must learn to use your anger for your own benefit, not the benefit of those who would turn it against you.”

Hassan is the palace mapmaker. From the very first scene, I felt so much affection and adoration for him. He had this naivete that was unexpected. His and Fatima’s friendship is EVERYTHING. And the author rightfully explores it compellingly.

Theirs is a love story without any romance. The love these two have for each other is complex and inexplicable. Fatima feels the closest to him because he is the only one who doesn’t desire her. He’s the sodomite between the two, but he’s also the one with more faith than Fatima. They have a complicated relationship because there is jealousy and bitterness along with affection and love with no happy resolution in sight. This book is the journey of these two to make a story for themselves, for once, that’s not made up.

“What if our stories are like my maps? What is a story but the map of an idea?”

This was a fantasy story but that was by no means the main focus of the book. Amidst all the actions and adventure, the themes that play out are characters’ search for love, happiness and freedom. The character growth and evolution that we witness is the real winner for me.

“Happiness, she decided, came only in pauses, neither regularly nor predictably.”

The writer excels in world-building and is outstanding in her prose. Because of that, the pace might feel uneven at places, but I didn’t mind it. The ending was bittersweet and I kinda ended up wanting more. But I guess this isn’t a book that can be tied neatly with a bow. The feelings it invoked in me deserve as many stars as I can give it.

Highly recommended!


 
My Rating: ★★★★★


Publication Date: 12th March, 2019.
Source: ARC from Publisher (via Netgalley)
You can find this book on – Goodreads | Amazon