CW: Islamophobia, death of loved ones, grief and loss, chronic illness, and multiple sclerosis
By now, y’all know that I’m not a big YA contemporary fan. It’s usually not my genre because of the romance. And this book wasn’t one I expected to ever read, despite reading some glowing reviews of it. Yet, Melany and Amy decided to choose it for their book club. I decided that I’d try it out.
And, I loved it.
Now, the heart of the story is a romance. And, for the second time this month, I liked it!
I know, I know. Calm yourselves. I’m still me, but this is strange.
The story follows Adam and Zayneb, two Muslims who meet by chance. Zayneb is in Doha to visit her aunt after being suspended from school. Her teacher is Islamophobic and tries to show each class how awful Islam is. Adam, on the other hand, is a college student who has stopped going to classes. Both meet on a flight to Doha. As it turns out, they each know Zayneb’s aunt — she’s, obviously, Zayneb’s aunt and Adam’s mother was her best friend — so they get to know each other.
There’s so much I want to talk about in this book because there was so much going on. First, the Islamophobia. I’m from a very small town. Predominantly white, but we had black and Latinx students as well. That’s it. I don’t recall anyone being Muslim or, for that matter, anyone who was non-Christian. I have never seen Islamophobia in my life, but I’ve read about it. In college my minor was religious studies, so when Islam was the religion we were studying, we talked about it a lot. Did presentations and things like that. And, it’s horrifying. However, as a non-Muslim, I’m not qualified to talk about it. I highly suggest you check out Chaima’s ownvoices review if you want to more about it.
But, one thing that I can speak to is grief and loss. In my profession, which is social work, we deal with that a lot. Unresolved grief and loss have huge impacts on people. Loss can take many forms as well. And this book was crippling with it, so if you’ve had a recent loss (or not so recent), please take care of yourself when you read it. I’ve been open about it on the blog, but when this review posts, it will be a few days away from the three-month mark when my sister passed away from cancer. And this book was hard to read.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is Adam’s mother. She passed away when he was a kid from multiple sclerosis — MS — and Adam has it as well. It’s speeding up and now it’s obvious that he has it. Now, my first agency placement was in a hospice. I had a patient I saw with MS. I’d go over and hang out for a few hours with him, then talk and evaluate his wife when she got home, because he was non-verbal, couldn’t move, and was chronically ill from complications that come with end-stage MS. I know what it looks like and all the loss associated with it.
Adam is grieving the loss of his mother, grieving the fact that he has what killed her, grieving his losses — loss of independence, loss of life span, loss of ability to function, loss of his future, etc. — and has to find a way to tell his grieving family and friends. It was a lot to handle and, each time, I felt that pit in my stomach because I know what it feels like from seeing patients go through these losses, their family members, and in my own personal life.
It was written so, so well. Ali captured it beautifully with heartbreaking accuracy. I cannot stress that enough. Which is why I’m saying to take care of yourself. I wish that other reviews had highlighted just how central grief and loss is to the story. For me, it overtook the romance completely.
One thing that also elevated this book for me was the support Adam and Zayneb both had. They had friends who were there for them and helping them. They had strangers who were there for them. They had family who was, for once, present in their lives as a support system. (Not often a theme in YA.) It was beautiful to read all the support they had, including each other.
So, I gotta say, this book was beautiful. It was very, very hard to read at times, but it was beautiful. I’m so glad that I went out on a limb and gave this a try.
Have you read this?
What did you think?