Updated: Mar 1
Don't be fooled by the cotton candy cover! This novel surprised me with its depth. The main character, Allie Abraham, is an American-born Muslim of Circassian descent. The book starts off with a bang, as Allie's father is persecuted before her eyes for speaking Arabic on a plane. Other such incidents indicate a growing Islamophobia to Allie, and she's beginning to come to grips with her feelings about it. Her parents are essentially non-practicing Muslims, and Allie has grown up in an undefined space between acknowledging her religion and culture while still keeping it to herself to remain safe in certain communities or situations. Her father in particular encourages Allie to embrace American culture and purposely avoids teaching her Arabic, even at her request.
This book is about Allie finding her own path; a path that acknowledges all the parts of who she is and who she wants to be. Several challenges are thrown her way. She's met the perfect guy, except his father is an ultra-conservative talking head that wants to throw all Muslims out of America. She's growing closer to her faith, except dating is off limits. She wants to learn Arabic and practice the religion she grew up with, except it's driving a wedge between Allie and her father. What's a girl to do?
One of the things Allie grapples with is that she doesn't "look Muslim", and therefore experiences privileges that aren't extended to the rest of her family. She doesn't wear a hijab, and her Circassian father and white mother (a convert) means that Allie presents as white. One of the things I found most interesting about this novel was Allie's observations about the types of prejudice she is exposed to and how painful ignorance can be. Her friends remark upon "those types" of Muslims, without knowing Allie (who looks like them) is Muslim. She is equally pained at the harassment her other friends who "look Muslim" experience, even when she's sitting right next to them. The author gives us plenty to think about in terms of perception, privilege, and prejudice.
I thought this was a very unique story. Allie is not a perfect character, but she learns from her mistakes. At the end of the day, I thought this was a thoughtful novel about defining yourself in the face of expectations and growing into the person you want to be. I would recommend it to anyone who likes an interesting coming-of-age story, family dynamics, and contemporary fiction that hits on hard truths.