A Love Letter to Muslim Authors, a guest post by Lisa Krok
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many Muslims in the United States and elsewhere have been the victims of prejudice and stereotypes. Recently in the young adult book world, a novel written by a non-Muslim writer received backlash in some reviews regarding the portrayal of Muslims and the Kosovan Genocide in 1996. The author has since apologized and pulled the book from publication. Additionally, Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has faced death threats and Islamaphobic hate, linking her to the September 11 attacks. The horrific Mosque shootings in Christchurch this past week demonstrated white supremacy in action, bringing tragic consequences for many families.
My heart is so heavy for the hurt Muslims repeatedly endure. My heart is also so very full with peace and love for them. With so much negativity directed towards the Muslim population, they truly deserve a love letter for all they bring to the world of young adult literature. Muslim teens have historically not had much representation in books, and thankfully, this is changing. I have personally read eight books in the past few months by Muslim authors and/or featuring Muslim characters. At first, I was choosing books that had summaries that sounded interesting. As I read more, I found that the #ownvoices books by Muslim authors had stories that captivated me, so I began seeking out more of them. The selections below are primarily published in 2018 and 2019, with some forthcoming very soon.
The realistic fictional accounts depict Muslim teens having many of the same issues all teens have, albeit sometimes at a much more intense level: concerns about fitting in, bullying, first love, sexuality, parental expectations, mental illness, etc. Hijabi teens are included, with explanations of the hijab and why they choose to wear it. A terrific example of this is illustrated in Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea (Harper Collins, 2018). When hijab wearing teen Shirin couples with school basketball star Ocean James, many of their classmates are critical. Shirin faces unfair intimidation and threats. Fortunately, her relationship with her brother is strong, and together they work on a breakdancing routine for the school talent show. Mafi has stated that the book is not autobiographical, but is inspired by situations that happened in her life. Teens will be interested to learn that Mafi is a breakdancer herself, as demonstrated in the book trailer below.
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf (Salaam Reads, 2019) propels readers into Melati’s world during the race riots of 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Melati is a Beatles loving, movie going teen with OCD. When tensions rise, a riot leader storms the movie theater. Melati and her best friend are forced to separate, and their lives are forever changed. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, 2019) portrays a lesbian teenaged girl wanting to make her own decisions about who she will date and marry, with some roadblocks from her controlling parents. Kick the Moon by Muhammed Khan (Pan Macmillan UK, 2019) features Ilyas, who is battling on many different fronts, including toxic masculinity, misogyny, test pressures, and accountability.
What I adore most about these realistic fiction novels by Muslim authors is that even with the differences in culture, religion, geographical location, and time periods, the characters are so very relatable to a broad spectrum of teens. This is a harmonious merging of what some perceive as “other”, to help them see that our commonalities are far greater than our differences. The more Muslim teens view themselves reflected in books, the more they will feel validated and seen. These accounts can also help non-Muslim teens progress from possible stereotypical thoughts and promote conversations on the path to real life acceptance and celebration of each other. These are ideal and highly encouraged for classroom book discussions or book club picks. Some of the themes represented include racism, resisting, self-acceptance, family issues, homophobia, mental illness, and dating. All of the realistic fiction books below are available now, with the exception of Internment by Samira Ahmed (Little, Brown BFYR, March 19, 2019), Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads, April 30, 2019) and Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra (Macmillan, July 2, 2019).
YA Realistic Fiction
For teens interested in books with a sci-fi/fantasy element, Muslim writers have you covered there, too! Digging deep to find your inner strength, even in the most dire of circumstances is a common thread in many of these SFF novels. Three incredible debut books by new Muslim authors are shown below. Mirage by Somaiya Daud (Flatiron, 2018) is available now in stores and libraries. The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad (Scholastic Press) and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR) share a book birthday on May 14, 2019.
Teens who enjoy dark, edgy reads will inhale these two gripping series. The “Queen of Cruel” (but we love her dearly), Sabaa Tahir, will rip your heart out, dance on it, and leave you begging for more. Book four of the An Ember in the Ashes series is slated to come out in 2020, giving those who have read the first three time to recover and crave vengeance. Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series is also intense, with novellas provided in between the books to satiate readers clamoring for the next installment. Defy Me releases April 2, 2019.
YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series
Middle grade readers can find some commendable options from Muslim authors, also. Karuna Raizi’s The Battle (Salaam Reads, 2019) is the sequel to her previous book, The Gauntlet (Salaam Reads, 2018) and has special appeal for gamers. Raizi’s book is forthcoming, August 27, 2019. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) has already grabbed the hearts of many librarians, teachers, and students, who have become immediately engaged with the very likable protagonist, Amal, and her struggle to be free. Also, forthcoming by Aisha Saeed is Aladdin: Far from Agrabah (Disney Press, April 2, 2019).
Middle Grade Readers
To the many incredible Muslim authors who have worked tirelessly to bring their stories to teens, thank you. Thank you for giving Muslim teens their chance to be SEEN. Thank you for addressing issues affecting teens, such as mental illness, sexuality, racism, bullying, and more. Thank you for the strength of your characters and for their resilience. Thank you for opening the door to discussions for non-Muslim teens to see that we are all more alike than they may think. Inshallah, this is just the beginning of a journey spreading peace and understanding to many.
Lisa Krok, M.L.I.S., M.Ed
If you would like to help families affected by the New Zealand shootings, please visit the official Victim Support donation page: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/christchurch-shooting-victims-fund?fbclid=IwAR0xUiUdpGsfqVgBgQ1eUqAFqIFLMejM47pZDYfh90uiDI5i-GvoDyDyu_Q
-Lisa Krok is a librarian, die-hard YA reader, social justice warrior, and a Ravenclaw. She has a passion for reaching reluctant readers, and was appointed to the 2019 and 2018 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.
Filed under: Teen Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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