Maya Aziz is Indian, Muslim, and American. She is also crushing on a non-Muslim classmate and dreaming of going away to film school one day, both of which are far from what her parents expect from her. The first part of the book focuses on Maya’s inner conflict, and are mostly cute as her relationship with Phil (her crush) progresses, and she gets to know Kareem, the guy that her parents would approve of. When I read this I knew that some of my Muslim friends are going to hate this book, because while Maya is Muslim, she isn’t exactly devout. And then there’s Kareem, who drinks and then says “it’s not like I’m eating pork” (I’m paraphrasing as I don’t remember the exact quote). But I’m the sort of Muslim who likes this book, and loves the diversity shown in it.
I’m not American, and my exposure to Muslims in (Malay or Indonesian) novels/films are almost always the Absolutely Devout types. So for me, I love seeing more characters like Maya, who identifies as Muslim but may not live her entire life according to scripture. And I’ve always observed Kareem’s behaviour in some of the Muslims I know – they’d do almost anything, but they’d say “at least I don’t eat pork”, like that’s the absolute worst thing for a Muslim to do. I don’t really get it? I mean, I personally think that everyone’s relationship to god(s) are their own, but it’s just a very interesting line to draw, and I wish it was explored further in the book.
The second part of the book changes in tone, however, after a terrorist attack occurs, and the suspected terrorist was called Aziz. Suddenly Maya and her family became victims of hate crimes, and Maya began to feel like her classmates and neighbours are all looking at them differently. I thought that this second half is a lot stronger, and it’s the reason I’m handselling it every chance I get at the store, but it didn’t feel as powerful as, say, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. It made me think of the Ms. Marvel comics, and oh how I wish that G. Willow Wilson would write a YA contemporary, or just a novelisation of Ms. Marvel.
Note: I received an ARC through work.