This book had me raging. I was sceptical about this when I first heard about it but this book was worse than I thought it would be.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Being a teenager isn’t easy. And it doesn’t help when you have a mega strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. All Sara wants to do is experiment with makeup, listen to the latest Destiny’s Child single and read fashion magazines, but her dad’s conservative interpretation of Islam makes it impossible. Things get even harder when her dad lands himself a job in the Arabian Gulf and moves Sara and her family to a country where the patriarchy rules supreme. In a country where you have to have your father’s permission for everything, every door feels like it is being closed on Sara’s future. In a desperate bid for freedom, Sara makes a judgement call that threatens to ruin their dysfunctional father-daughter relationship forever.
Before I share the issues I have with it I want to say that I know this is own voices and while I know that stories of women being treated unjustly should be shared and we need to raise awareness so that things can change, it still does not justify making your personal story that of all women raised in the Gulf.
The story itself was really poorly written as if this was a draft rather than an edited finished copy. It had several time jumps and yet we are not told when exactly the book is set, I had to work it out from things that were mentioned. We are also repeatedly told the family live in the Gulf as if the Gulf is one single country and not made up of many countries each with its own cultural norms and rules. I still am not sure exactly where the book was set. It was frustrating to have to try and work things out and not even know where exactly the book was set.
The author at the end of the book had a page where she said that she later learnt that Islam was very different to the version her father had taught her and that it made her see her faith in a different light. However I don’t think that small statement at the end is good enough when the whole book implies that Islam is the root cause of all her problems and that Arab men in general are all oppressive.
We see the author time and time again show that her father uses hadith to oppress her and treat her unjustly which to someone who hasn’t studied hadith will take them at face value which implies that Islam is implicitly the issue, when it’s that her father is actually twisting words to use to his benefit. In fact every single time Islam is mentioned it’s negatively so I don’t really know what point she was making because it came across as Islam is the issue not that people twisting words to their benefit is the actual issue.
We also see that the author implies that living in a specific part of the world, the Gulf, is the reason for the father becoming oppressive but we see that he was always like this. He always had these inclinations and beliefs. The mother hates having to prepare food for the men that come to see the father in the gulf but doesn’t feel as annoyed by doing the same thing in England because the men there said thank you. So the things the father did didn’t actually change he expected the same thing from his wife but somehow it was okay in England but no in the Gulf.
The father is absolutely oppressive and twists things to suit his benefit and there are men who do this and these things should be called out. I hated every single time he twisted things and treated the women in his family unjustly and even how he treated his sons. That unless there is blind obedience from them they are a disappointment and yet Islam teaches us against this very thing. Blind obedience is not part of Islam and yet this distinction was never made despite her having many opportunities throughout the story. It made me more and more angry that the way the story was spun.
Another issue I had with the book was the constant comparison of how White people are superior to Arabs even mentioning looks. There is one scene where she says her sister is blessed with her mother’s looks (who is White) and that she has a big nose because of her “Arab DNA” and I just hated how she kept implying that White people are superior, that the West is better. She showed it in how the people who embraced western ideals of norm were seen as progressive and those who tried to practice Islam were seen as backwards.
There was just so much Arab hate in this book and it made all women who lived in the Gulf a victim and all men are oppressors. It’s not okay to lump everyone in these two neat sides. There are oppressive men everywhere and yet we don’t claim that every man from there is oppressive so why is it okay to say that about the men in the Gulf. Also it didn’t sit right with me that all women are victimised despite this not being the reality of every woman in the Gulf. There was also some fetishization of Arab men which if it had been a man who did that to a woman would be unacceptable and yet it was okay for her to do and it made it to the final copy?!
I also found the story to only focus on her relationship with men, the way she wanted to dress and that being free meant being westernised and I just had so many issues with it. There’s a line where she says in England a girl becomes a teen when she kisses a boy and I just had to double take because WHAT? What is the point of this message except to show how much “better” it was in the west?
She also was pretty judgemental of other girls and their choices because it wasn’t the same as hers and the whole I’m not like other girls. Shaming them for wanting to wear make up etc and at the same time doing the exact same thing as them, putting make up when she left and taking it off before she got home so her dad wouldn’t see.
We see very little of her life outside of this narrative and it made her a very shallow one dimensional character. The whole time she lived in the Gulf she only showed how awful every single man she meets is and therefore all Arab men are awful and she lumps them all together. Even the scene where she attends a conference where she says she is passionate about women’s rights the focus ends up being on a man she meets. I would have liked to have seen more of her relationship with her siblings which are only mentioned to show how oppressive it is for women and how men become misogynists by living in the Gulf.
I am so tired of these stereotypes being perpetuated and especially that the stories lack nuance.