Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

This Is My Truth by Yasmin Rahman – Book Review

Thank you to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is incredible and should be read by both teens and adults.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Best friends Amani and Huda are getting nervous about their GCSEs – and their future beyond school, which they’re both wildly unprepared for. Shy, quiet Amani has an outwardly picture-perfect family – a father who is a successful TV presenter, a loving mother, and an adorable younger brother – while confident and impulsive

Huda has grown up with over-affectionate foster parents who are now expecting a baby of their own. Both girls are jealous of each other’s seemingly easy life, without realising the darkness or worries that lie underneath. Then Huda witnesses Amani’s father hitting her mother, and Amani’s biggest secret is suddenly out. As Amani convinces Huda to keep quiet by helping her with her own problems, a prank blog starts up at school, revealing students’ secrets one by one. Will this anonymous blogger get hold of Amani’s secret too? Will Huda keep quiet?

Trigger warning: Domestic violence

This book deals with domestic violence in desi and Muslim communities and it is an incredibly difficult topic to deal with but Yasmin deals with so sensitively and it’s so well written. She also discusses what it can be like for a young girl in the foster care system.

The story is told from the point of view of Amani and Huda who are best friends in the last couple weeks of school. Huda is more outspoken and confident whereas Amani is more reserved and introverted but they both get along really well together. Seeing the way the teens were during the last few weeks literally transported me back to my last few weeks of school. While Amani’s school had a prank war, we had egg and flour fights. The stress and relief and excitement and worry with your normal coming to an end after five years was so well written in the story. I could feel it and remember when it was me. Honestly it made me real nostalgic, although I do not miss exam stress.

Both Amani and Huda think the other has the perfect family but it really shows how no one truly knows what is happening in the home and that on the outside your family can seem picture perfect but inside you are just trying to survive each day.

Huda had a lot of insecurities and struggled to think of a future for herself because of how she has been moved around in the foster care system. How can she think of a future plan when her whole life can be uprooted in any moment? Do her foster parents truly love her or will they discard her now that they have their own baby coming? These things run through her mind pushing her into asking Amani to teach her to be a “perfect daughter” and it really brought into question, what is a perfect daughter and can any girl be a perfect daughter?

These are the things that make you you, the things I love about you.

None of us are perfect, we make mistakes, we hurt those we love even by accident and yet desi culture demands perfection from girls from a young age. Their worth is based on how “perfect” they are. They decide what makes the girl a good or perfect daughter and it always includes being obedient, submissive, quiet, and able to handle all domestic chores without complaint. When we aren’t that, we are labelled rebellious and bad.

Huda is attacked in this way by some characters in the book too. She thinks that because she isn’t that type of daughter her foster parents won’t want to keep her after they have their own child. Her insecurity about being loved was so heartbreaking to read. No child should be made to feel that they aren’t loved and love shouldn’t be conditional on whether they meet certain criteria. Even though her foster parents are incredible and love her for the way she is. Society pressure can still make a teen feel insecure about it.

Amani lives in an abusive toxic household but one that looks picture perfect from the outside. Everyone sees a wonderful caring father and yet no one sees who he truly is behind closed doors. So who would even believe her mother or Amani if they spoke up? Amani’s terror and struggle to cope and hide this from everyone was so difficult to read. How despite being terrified herself she still had to be there for her little brother. How this affected both their perceptions on how you should treat your spouse, what marriage is like, how a woman should be treated and how a man should be towards their wife. Amani says she would rather be single and honestly I felt the same at her age. Marriage was a prison, it was suffocating and violent. But I was really glad to see there was a contrast with Huda’s foster parents being in a healthy happy relationship.

I thought that’s what marriage was – not being happy.

Amani would take on the burden of “fixing” her dad like it was her responsibility, if she was just a perfect daughter it would be okay. But no matter how perfect she was, her dad would still become violent at the smallest inconvenience. Her mother lived in fear, and would flinch at the smallest sounds. She reduced herself, she stopped being her own person and just lived to try and keep her husband happy. She kept one thing for herself which was a part time job and this became another area in which her father would try to control her financially. The emotional, physical, psychological and financial abuse she goes through is horrifying and yet she still tries to be a good mum to her kids and wants to protect them. She doesn’t realise until much later that her silence was also destroying her children, even though women are told to stay silent “for the sake of the kids.” How is staying in an abusive relationship good for her or her kids?  

I love that Yasmin has written a book dealing with these topics within the Muslim and Desi communities because so many kids and teens are affected by it and yet to speak about it is taboo. There is too much emphasis on what will people say as opposed to how my child feels, is my family safe, are we creating a healthy environment for them to grow up in. Yasmin has done such a wonderful job of discussing these topics in her book and I hope that they are easily available to teens. So they know that they aren’t alone and trapped, so that they know that violence isn’t okay.

Okay wow I have written a long essay but truly this is a topic I am incredibly passionate about and I was literally sobbing by the end of the book and knew that this will stay with me for a long time. Like Yasmin’s first book, this is another book I wish I had been able to read as a teen.

I loved Huda and Amani’s friendship and it was really great to see friends that fall out but also work through the reasons for the fall out without making lives difficult for each other. Huda broke Amani’s trust but she realised she was wrong to do so and apologised and tried to make up for it. Amani knows that what Huda did, while still wrong, was to help her. It’s such a delicate and difficult situation to be in for both of them and we aren’t really shown or taught in any way how to handle these things. I was glad to see that they were able to work things through and remain friends.

Someone once told me you can’t count on the future…the present’s all you got

This book deeply resonated with me on so many levels and one that I want everyone to read. It’s such an important book and shows how toxic these situations are and that we shouldn’t have to silently put up with it. I highly recommend everyone who can read this to read this. Give it to teens and adults alike because even adults who have not been in these type of situations don’t truly understand what it is like. Please go buy and read this book!

Books by Muslim Authors, Diverse Books, YA Books

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali – Book Review

This is the companion book to Saints and Misfits and I highly recommend you read this before this book. You can read my review of Saints and Misfits here. This book was everything I ever wanted and more!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too.

Sweet, constant Nuah.

The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah.

It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna.

And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants.

Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

This book was pure serotonin injected straight into my veins. I loved every second of this book, it was a celebration of being Muslim and love and marriage and family and friends. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write down coherently just how much this book means to me.

This book is set about 2 years after the events of Saints and Misfits and it’s the summer when Janna’s older brother, Muhammad and Sarah, are getting married. Their nikkah is taking place at their dad’s home in the garden overlooking the lake. Even the setting in the book is so beautiful and honestly I wish we could see the wedding happening because it must have looked amazing.

Janna is older and she has grown a lot over the two years. She had a lot of trauma to deal with and it was nice to see that she no longer blames herself for what happened to her and that monster was held accountable. In this book Janna goes through a great character growth from thinking her happiness will be with being with another person to realising she can be happy with just herself. It was so wonderful to see that message in the book because often girls are taught their happiness lies with being with someone else. But our happiness and self worth should be with being happy within ourselves. 

I also loved all the female friendships in this book and that Janna and Tats even discuss the Bechdel test. I especially loved the friendship and love between Sarah and Janna and how they became family and look out for each other. It was a big difference from a couple years ago where Janna called her saint Sarah! It was amazing to see so many female characters, each with their own distinct personalities and dreams and hopes. From Sausan who is a badass niqabi with her own youtube channel to Sarah getting her PhD to the new characters we meet in this book who come for the wedding.

Muhammad, is Janna’s older brother and is such a cinnamon roll, I loved him so much. The way he understood Janna at such a deep level to understanding her through a look on her face. But also being the annoying older brother and their banter was so great! However he had questionable choices in wedding décor and I cannot explain the absolute horror I felt at some of his choices. But it was also hilarious watching Sarah bring out her clipboards and rope Janna into sorting everything out in one weekend.

This book may seem like it’s a fluffy romance but it also deals with some really serious issues like the racism that exists in our community that Black people face. The microaggressions that they have to deal with but find it difficult to call them out for it. Nuah has to deal with this throughout the wedding and Janna has to have some very difficult discussions with her dad about this. There is also the racism between arabs and non arabs and how some arabs view those who aren’t, inferior and show that in the comments they make about how their traditions are more important and make Muhammad not feel welcome in the family at times. These are difficult but important discussions we need to have with the people in our lives if we see them do this, we can’t just ignore it.

I really loved Haytham and Layth too even though I was still rooting for Nuah. Haytham was just swoon worthy and Layth had so much depth to him. I really enjoyed seeing their stories play out and how they interacted with Janna.

This book was so wonderful in so many ways and I just loved reading every second of it. The ending was so wonderful and so perfect for Janna and the wedding was so beautiful and there’s so much more I want to say but I can’t because spoilers but this book made me laugh and me so emotional and please you all need to go read it!

Book Recommendations, Muslim Shelf Space

Why You Should Read Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

I recently reread this book and I really loved it as much as I did the first time I read it and I think I appreciated it more this time.

This book discusses sexual assault and having to deal with the aftermath of this especially if the person who assaulted you is a beloved member of your community.

You can read my review here about why I loved this book so much.

So here are some reasons why you should read Saints and Misfits:

Well, first and foremost the sequel will be out on May 25th and will feature a big fat Muslim wedding and a love story and will have cameos from Adam and Zayneb from Love From A to Z! Check out the hashtag #CelebrateMisfitInLove to see everyone sharing their wedding aesthetics and more!

Muslim Representation

We see so many Muslims in this book, from the Imam of a masjid to the young adults and teens. We see how Muslims aren’t monolith and how some practice more than others and that each one of them has their own difficulties and struggles that they deal with. We see how teens and youth are often active members of the community how the Masjid is more than a place of worship. It’s a place where the young and old alike can meet and find a safe place. I just loved seeing it all.

Janna is a relatable Muslim teen living in the West

I felt her struggles on a deep personal level. She wants to fit in at school but also follow her religious practices. Sometimes they collide and you can’t do both and it can be difficult to manage that. The expectations and pressures from both sides can feel like a lot for a teen. She had a crush on a classmate but didn’t want to date but still had these feelings and now she has to manage and navigate this amongst people who won’t necessarily understand her completely.

Discussions of Rape Culture and Victim Blaming

We meet Janna just after she survives a sexual assault by a monster known as Farooq. As he is in a position of power in the community she finds it difficult to tell anyone what happens and he constantly inserts himself in her life. He tries to convince her she wanted it and it was her fault. She has a lot of fears and struggles to come to terms with what happened and becomes angry about her situation and being unable to do anything about it. The complicated feelings she goes through and feeling unsafe in places she should be safe felt very real. These are discussions that are important to be had especially amongst youth who are often told by society that the victim is at fault and the abuser can often get away with little or no consequence especially if they are in a position of power.

Female Friendships

I loved seeing all the women that Janna is surrounded by! Her best friend Tats was such a wonderful character and truly looked out for Janna. I also loved Sausan who is a badass niqabi and has her own youtube channel. I loved the slow friendship that started to develop between Janna and Sarah and how your own assumptions about a person can be so wrong once you get to know them. I really loved Sarah especially and I cannot wait to see her in Misfit in Love.

Sibling Dynamic

I loved seeing how real the relationship between Janna and her older brother, Muhammad was! The bickering and sniping at each other and yet always being there for each other. The making sacrifices for each other and being the only one the other can turn to for help. How Muhammad relied on Janna for help in being able to meet Sarah in a halal way. It was just fun to see them!

Nuah the Cinnamon Roll

Look, he is the sweetest and I was SCFREAMING at Janna to see what was right in front of her the whole time. A practicing young man who respects women is kind and caring and funny and seems to understand Janna really well. He was adorable and I cannot wait to see him Misfit in Love!

So these are some of the reasons why you should read Saints and Misfits and of course pick up the sequel after!

Inspirational People

Muslim Women Throughout Islamic History – Zaynab bint Ali

This month I am going to share a little bit about Zaynab bint Ali. She was the daughter of Fatima and Ali (ra) and the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). She like her brothers was named by the Prophet (pbuh). We often hear about her incredible brothers, Hasan and Hussain but she was just as an incredible woman as them.

She was born in year 5 AH in Medina and was only 6 when her mother, Fatima, died. She took on a maternal role for her siblings and so the three siblings were really close. She was also really close to her father, Ali. So much so that when Ali moved the capital, she along with her husband moved with him. She was there when her father was assassinated and again at the battle of Karbala.

When Hussain marched to Karbala to claim leadership she went with him along with most of the household. This is where Hussain was betrayed and where her brother Ḥussain and 72 of her nephews and other brothers were killed. She, became the leader of the ahl al-bayt, and was integral in protecting and standing against those who wanted to kill the rest of her household. She protected her nephew, Ali ibn Ḥussain, from being executed by the caliph at Kufa. She threw herself over him and gave such a passionate speech that they decided to release all the prisoners at Karbala. This effectively saved the Prophet’s (pbuh) family line.

She returned to Medina and on her way back stopped at Karbala to mourn the deaths of all those who had died there. It is unknown when exactly she passed away but she passed away shortly after returning to Medina.

She is known for standing up against oppression and injustice and protecting the most vulnerable. She was eloquent in her speech and a passionate person. She protected and defended her family and was incredible leader who ensured the safe release of the survivors of the massacre at Karbala. She suffered greatly in her life but she upheld the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah and advocated for justice.

Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali – Book Review

This is Sajidah’s debut book and a book I reread for the first time since I read it when it released.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Honestly I appreciated this book a lot more during my reread than I did the first time I read it. It’s a story that deals with several important topics within the Muslim community that don’t get enough attention and ways to deal with these issues openly and without stigma.

Janna is 15 and going through what a lot of Muslim teens go through living in the west, how to balance your faith and trying to fit in. A lot of youth don’t have someone they can trust to turn to for help in navigating this so they do so on their own and no one is perfect so they can make mistakes, they can bow to peer pressure which does happen to Janna.

Janna is assaulted and harassed by a boy who is known to have a wonderful reputation within the Muslim community and so she finds it difficult to speak up about what has happened to her. It was heart breaking to read about how much Janna struggles to work through her trauma completely alone and she also has to listen to everyone talk about how amazing her assaulter is. She even has to be around him because no one knows what he did to her and she can’t find a way to avoid him. He begins to stalk her and start a smear campaign against her because that will make it harder for her to speak up and be believed. It felt so real to read this. She is trying to move on but keeps getting pulled back and navigating all these complicated feelings. She feels isolated and it affects her relationships with family and friends. It was heart breaking to read about it.

One of the things I did love was that Janna may not have been able to speak up about the assault but she knew that it wasn’t her fault, that even though that monster tried to manipulate her she knew it wasn’t. This is something so important to read and see, that it is never the fault of the victim. I think the only thing I wish we got to see more of was what happened after she finally spoke up. Maybe we will get to see this in the sequel!

I also loved the range of Muslim women that are in this book from niqbi Sausan to “Saint” Sarah and even Fizz. Suasan is amazing and a badass, her sass and and how she carries herself wearing the niqab was so wonderful to see. Sarah may seem like a saint to Janna but once she spends some time with Sarah, she realises that actually she isn’t perfect but just trying her best like Janna. Fizz is another person in Janna’s life but one who is also related to the monster, she can be a little judgemental and see Islam in Black and white and it causes a rift between her and Janna. It was great to see all these different women in the book because we are all different and everyone is on their own journey in their faith.

And then we have Nuah, who clearly has a crush on Janna even though she is oblivious. She has a crush on Jeremy and it was interesting to see her journey through navigating her feelings towards him and trying to figure out how to manage these feelings because she didn’t want to date but also did want to spend time with him. It felt real and relatable. She is 15 and many of us have to navigate and balance our faith and our feelings especially at that age it can be difficult and you can feel pressured to do things you may not want to. But by the end she has resolved her feelings and realises that dating isn’t something she wants to do.

Nuah meanwhile is actually a great friend to her and never pressures her to feel or be more than a friend. He also is one of the few people who figures out that the monster has hurt Janna in some way and immediately believes her and says he is there for her if she needs some support and honestly I just fell in love with how sweet he is. I cannot wait to see him in Misfit in Love!

This is a story that deals with many difficult topics that young people deal with in the Muslim community and I am so glad I reread it as I think I appreciated the story a lot more in my reread. I am so excited for the sequel releasing in a few months!