Torn between the life her parents want for her, a job as a successful lawyer and a ‘suitable’ husband and her dreams to attend NYU to pursue a career in filmmaking, Maya thinks these are her biggest problems. That is until a terrorist attack completely shatters her world, sharing the same last name as the suspect is enough for her to face anger, hatred and violence all because of her religion.
This is Ahmed’s debut novel and if this is just the start, I can’t wait to see what comes next. An own voices novel, Ahmed makes 17-year-old Maya come alive within a few pages, presenting the struggle and expectations of a first-generation American. From the very first chapter, we see Maya fed up with the idea of a ‘perfect Indian daughter’, instead, she captures the world through a camera lens with hopes and dreams of making this a career.
This wasn’t a typical rebellious teenager character. You can see and feel the frustrations of trying to balance the two worlds. While she loves her parents and her Indian heritage, she was brought up as an American and struggles to balance the two. Particularly when her parents arrange for her to meet ‘suitable’ Kareem, a potential match, while she’s finally getting her crush to notice her at the same time. What’s a girl to do?
While a large chunk of the novel is taken up by love interests, there are serious undertones even before the disruption of the terrorist attack on Maya’s life. Luckily, Maya has people around her who can and will support her dreams of working behind the camera. I loved the relationship between Maya and her Aunt Hinda because it showed another perspective, it didn’t make Maya’s parents the only Indian characters and therefore a stereotype. The relationship between the two was incredibly special and moving.
I feel the need to point out that I am not Muslim, I am a white woman, so I feel that my experience of this book may be different to those who have lived it. That said, Ahmed tackles Islamaphobia head-on in this novel and I can only applaud her. It is something that so many will shy away from and pretend it doesn’t happen in today’s society. In that, the novel makes you think, it made me upset and angry that this is happening to innocent people, that Maya and her family face cruelty and hate because of another person’s actions.
As I was reading, I was worried about what the ending would be. I didn’t want this to be a formulaic ending and I’m pleased by what Ahmed did with the character. That is all I can say without spoiling the ending or rest of the plot, but it was worth mentioning.
Overall I gave this 5 stars. I really enjoyed the novel and can definitely see it becoming a bestseller. This should be handed out in schools as a tool to talk about Islamophobia and the impact it has on young people as well as discussions about culture. The only thing I would change is I’d like to have heard more about Maya’s filming and passion but that’s all!
Thank you to Netgalley, Hot Key Books and Samira Ahmed for this in exchange for an honest review.