Diverse Books, YA Books

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – ARC Review

Thank you to Rock the Boat and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

This book was a phenomenal read! From the first page we are thrown into this incredibly vivid world that Xiran has created and I loved every second of it. Zetian has become one of my favourite characters and I love the trio so much, they are pure chaos and I am here for it!

This is set in a world where women are considered worthless and only there to sacrifice themselves for the male pilots or to be good wives and mothers. By good I mean silent and obedient. Zetian has had enough of this and after the death of her sister she vows to get revenge and does so in the most spectacular fashion and in that moment I fell in love with her.

I loved seeing Zetian and how she battled against the  systemic injustice that women are subjected to on a daily basis and the pure rage she felt. I related to her a lot; I understand her rage. I loved how it was shown in the book and through her. She has every right to be angry but what I loved most was watching her opinions and thoughts about how to become empowered changed and grew as she learnt more and interacted with different people in different situations. How that impacted how she fought for herself and for women’s empowerment everywhere. This book is honestly such a powerful read and had me feeling all the emotions.

I especially loved her internal conflict of how can she fight for empowerment and yet love and care for a man and be vulnerable with them. Her learning it isn’t an either or situation, she can have both. There is so much depth to her character that we see more and learn more about her as the story goes on and I just need everyone to read this book.

The discussions on misogyny and patriarchy are done so incredibly well and we see just how deeply these views have impacted women in so many ways that are completely invisible to men. There’s also discussions around how the powerful and wealthy just continue to grow in wealth and the poor become poorer. Honestly there was so many interesting and nuanced discussions in the book but it didn’t take away from the plot and suspense of the story. It just added more layers to it.

I loved the mechas and the battle scenes, I would love to be able to see this in a film, I think some scenes would have some breath-taking visuals and it was all described so vividly that I could picture everything. We learn about the world through Zetain, Shimin and Yizhi who all come from different situations in life. All three characters are morally grey and despite some of the awful things they do, you can’t help but root for them. Especially as everyone seems equally monstrous.

The build up to the ending had me on the edge of my seat and the second half especially had me completely hooked and I thought I knew what was happening but the ending still left me completely shook and I was left screaming! I am ridiculously excited to read the sequel and honestly I don’t know how I’m going to wait a whole year for it.

Musings of a Muslimah, Reflections

International Women’s Day – Islam and Feminism

So it’s international women’s day and this year I thought I would try to share my thoughts on Islam and Feminism and what it means to me. This is an area that I am incredibly passionate about and will often speak up about these things regarding issues both with how Muslim women are perceived in the wider community and the treatment of women within Muslim communities.

Islam and feminism is a topic that ignites many varying opinions and I often find myself having long discussions with people about this. Some Muslims believe there is no space for feminism in Islam and some believe that it is the way forward and there are many opinions that range from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is also affected by what the word feminism means to each person and how they interpret it. Me, personally, I am somewhere in the middle.

For me feminism is fighting for justice for all women and people all over the world. However, to me justice and equality isn’t the same thing. Being equal doesn’t necessarily make things just. So I will advocate for justice for all. This to me is exactly what Islam teaches. Islam teaches that we must treat everyone with justice and any act of oppression is sinful and every person who was treated unjustly will get their justice whether it is in this world or the next. This has always brought me peace to know that Allah is The Just and that He will always make sure that we are all given our justice. So for me feminism and Islam go hand in hand.

I can however see why many have issues with calling themselves a feminist, the media perpetuates a single type of feminism and many of us have encountered people who believe in this type and that we must all adhere to this or we aren’t feminists. This type is white feminism and I truly hate this brand of feminism. It only advocates for certain women who look like them and that we must all believe in these beliefs. I have been told by white feminists that to truly be free I must take off my hijab and my refusal to do so is in fact internalised misogyny. They don’t think that women can have different views on what is empowerment for them. For many this is the only view of feminism they have seen and so are obviously hesitant to call themselves feminists and be linked to this brand of feminism.

Islam has given women so many rights and yet all we see are the narrative that Muslim women are submissive and oppressed. This is the only narrative the media is willing to show everyone and yet when you actually look at Muslim women we are excelling in so many areas. Yes, there are those who want to keep us submissive and do so in the name of our faith but that doesn’t mean it is the reality of so many of us. It is an issue all over the world no matter what culture or religion you come from. Yet Muslim women are often singled out, even though Muslims come from all walks of life and cultures.

When you look at what Islam actually says about women you will see that we are given such a high status in our faith and we have so many rights from owning property, education, working, our money is ours and so much more. We are to be treated with the utmost respect and when you see Muslim women throughout history you will see they were incredible women. They were scholars, warriors, queens, scientists and more. They were feisty and opinionated and fought for what they believed in. They were not these submissive meek women that people today would have us believe.

Over the years I realised that this is a battle on two fronts, one is the wider society and media that will perpetuate a single harmful narrative and the other is that there are people within the Muslim community who want to keep that patriarchal society where women are controlled by the men in their lives as this is what benefits these men. But more and more we are seeing change, we are seeing that there are so many incredible women excel in so many ways. And at the end of the day whether women choose to study, work or decide to stay at home, be a full time mother (les face it this is a whole full time job) it should be these women’s choices. Not something that is enforced upon them.

For me the more I learnt about Islam and women in Islam the more empowered I felt. I knew my rights, I knew what Islam said about women and it helped me to actually build a better relationship with Allah. I learnt about justice in Islam and how everyone will get their justice for any form of oppression that happens to them and that this is why we need to be extra careful in how we treat people (and even animals and plants) because we will be held accountable for our actions. I spent time learning about Islamic history and especially women throughout history and I was left in awe of how incredible these women were.

My journey started with learning about Khadijah (ra) who was the first person to become Muslim and was the wife of the Prophet (pbuh). She has been my role model since I was a teen and she has been the person who has truly shaped who I am today. She taught me so much and in many ways she saved me. Growing up in a culture that treated women as less, despite that Islam advocates for justice and equality in treatment towards men and women. I felt suffocated at times and it made me push away from my culture and faith but after I learnt about her and how she was a successful businesswoman and did so much for her community, known as the Princess of Quraysh and still perfected her faith. For her there was no contradiction in fighting for justice for women and her faith and it made me re-evaluate and go and learn more which lead me down the path I am on today.

I will continue to advocate for justice for women both within our communities and share how incredible Muslim women are through the blog posts I write and more. I will continue to learn and grow and my journey will continue to change me because I know that the person I was 10 years ago isn’t the person I am now.

If you want to learn more about Muslim women throughout history, I share a monthly blog post series about them. You can find it here.

I have also written a whole post about Khadijah (ra) and how much she means to me which you can read here.

Inspirational People

Inspirational Women Throughout History – Fatima Al Fihri

This post is about Fatima al Fihri who built the world’s first university.

IMG_0786

Fatima Al Fihri was born in Tunisia and then migrated with her family to Morocco. She came from a wealthy family and when her father passed away he left her a big fortune. Not much is known about her early life but her and her sister were well educated and deeply religious. She used the money her father left her to invest in and build a mosque and educational institute for her community.

Initially it was a smaller place of education with a courtyard, prayer hall, libraries and classrooms. At first the courses which were offered were religious studies and Quranic studies. When she thought about making a place for a higher level of learning she expanded on the institute. People would come from all over the world to study and it was expanded and built upon until it was made into a university.

The university was named the University of al-Qarawiyyin, named after Fatima’s birthplace, Qayrawan in Tunisia. It was established in 859 and was the first degree granting institute in the world. There was a wide range of areas of study available to study from, astronomy, maths to sciences, medicine, languages and more. Even Fatima studied there too. Notable scholars from all over the world studied there and it was considered a place of a major intellectual centre in the medieval times.

The university is still running now and there are also other places which are part of the university which you can visit too including the library which is one of the world’s oldest libraries! There are over 4000 manuscripts there and you can even see Fatima’s diploma on display there on a wooden board!

She has such an amazing lasting legacy that a woman was the first to build and establish a university where everyone was welcome to come and study at. As a result of her building this higher education institute it paved way for other places to be built including University of Oxford and helped advance opportunities for higher learning all over Europe.

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Khadijah al Khuwaylid

Nusaybah bint Ka’ab

Lifestyle, Reflections

What Feminism Means To Me – International Women’s Day

Over the years feminism and I have had a love hate relationship. I have slowly developed a relationship with the term even though I have been a strong advocate for female empowerment since I was teen. It’s just that word, feminism, and everything that comes with that word, that I haven’t always been on good terms with.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am always advocating for female empowerment whether it’s through discussing how important having access to a good education is important for women to talking about stigma’s in society that creates injustices for women. As I am part of the south Asian community, I especially discuss how certain cultural practices harm women and should be stopped. I have had to fight these barriers and stigmas growing up so I fight against them to help my sisters to help my cousins to help those who are younger than me so they don’t have to grow up with the same stigmas.

Yet do I call myself a feminist? I have gone from calling myself a feminist proudly to distancing myself from it to saying yes I am a feminist but not one that the media shows to so much more. Basically, it’s complicated. It’s complicated because I am a brown, Pakistani, Muslim woman who wears a hijab. I don’t “look” like a feminist. What does a feminist look like anyways?

Well mainstream media will have you believe that a feminist is a white middle class woman and I clearly don’t fit that description. I call that white feminism. It’s a type of feminism I hate because there is no space for women who don’t look like or have the same opinions as them. It’s women like these who made me want to distance myself from the term.

I have been told that I NEED to take my hijab off to be “liberated” and how they feel so sorry for me because of how I am “forced” to dress and when I tried explaining I did in fact choose to wear what I wear, I was told I don’t understand, it’s just internalised misogyny. Safe to say that we did not become friends.

After a while as I got older, I realised that actually female empowerment doesn’t only look the way that they say it does. As I studied Islam more I found that the religion is so empowering for women. It made me even more passionate about speaking up about female empowerment. I realised that a lot of the cultural practices go against what Islam teaches. I changed, I grew, I taught others around me and although the elders still cling to their cultural practices I have found that the youth fight for their rights, especially young women. For example, girls are often not allowed to go into higher education yet in Islam it is compulsory for every man, woman and child to be educated so women knowing this means they can fight to be able to study further.

Another reason that I have a complicated relationship with feminism is because of a lack of women we are shown as empowered that look like me. The last few years especially, I have noticed that a lot of feminist books are being published yet there is still no sign of women who look like me. Most of the women are white and if there is a Muslim woman included it is always Malala, no offence to her but in 1400 years of Islamic history is she really the only woman that is worthy of being included? It’s actually made me stop reading these types of books unless I know that more diverse women are included. I ended up doing my own research into Muslim women and the results were astounding, since the beginning of Islam women have been a part of all areas of society, from warriors to doctors to scholars to rulers and so much more. It’s these women who encompassed all parts of my life who became my role models.

So yes, I am a feminist and I think it’s time we broadened our idea of what feminism is, because it means different things to different people and they are all valid. I can wear a hijab and be empowered, I can follow my religion and be empowered. In fact I feel more empowered because of my religion. I will continue to learn and grow but I will always fight for female empowerment.

Fiction Books, YA Books

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan – ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Okay so female empowerment books are either a love or hate type of books for me so I was a little wary of reading this, but it far exceeded my expectations! I absolutely loved this book!

IMG_1143

Rating: 4.5/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

I cannot explain how many emotions I went through reading this book, I was so pumped and excited and so mad at some things that happened, and I cried and laughed. Basically this book will leave you an emotional mess, but I loved it! One of the things I loved about this book was that it dealt with intersectional feminism. The main issue I have with feminist books is that being a South Asian Muslim woman, I don’t feel like it represents me and I can’t often relate to it. So reading this book was refreshing as I felt connected and I related to so many things they spoke about!

This book deals with sexism, racism, fatphobia, racism, slut shaming, sexual harassment and ableism to name a few. And I felt that they were portrayed realistically and I loved how they were handled. It deals with serious and heavy topics but it never felt like it was too much for me because the way the book is written makes it easier to take in everything. There are blog posts, playlists, and poetry written by both Chelsea, Jasmine and Nadine and artwork drawn by Isaac. I loved that these were included as it makes it more relatable to teens and young adults. They also spoke about real women throughout history and I loved that they were included and that they were from different cultures and backgrounds and from a wide range of fields. It was so inclusive and I wish that more books included women from different cultures.

I adored the friendship between Jasmine and Chelsea, they have such a wonderful friendship and it was realistic and not like a perfect friendship. They are supportive and help each other but they do sometimes take things for granted. For example, Chelsea has t-shirts made but doesn’t take into account that Jasmine will not be able to wear the sizes she buys as Jasmine needs plus size. I liked how Jasmine spoke to her about it and how it made her feel and that Chelsea realised her mistake. Both Jasmine and Chelsea have a lot to deal with outside of fighting for women’s rights and it really made their characters fully fleshed out.

The two girls start their own club in school because of the way they are treated in the clubs they are previously in. Jasmine has to deal with fat shaming and racism and Chelsea is sick of the only poetry being discussed is written by white men. They have to overcome many obstacles to be allowed to continue their club including having to deal with their principal who doesn’t really understand what they are trying to achieve and has quite misogynistic views despite being in charge of a school known for social justice. It was really great to see them grow and develop and realise the mistake they made in trying to get their point across and learnt to express themselves in a better way. I also loved the adults. especially women, who helped them and supported them in what they were trying to achieve.

There was so many moments in this book that I had to highlight as they discussed such important things that are relevant to today’s society and I really liked how well explained everything was so that even if you aren’t familiar with the topic of intersectional feminism it’s easy to understand. I highly recommend this book and hope you find it as enlightening and beneficial as I did.

It will be released on February 21st so it’s not long until you can get your hands on the book!