Books As Agents of Change, a guest post by Khadijah VanBrakle
Thank you to SLJ’s TLT, and Amanda MacGregor in particular, for allowing me to discuss several topics related to my debut, YA novel, FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE. It was released June 13th, 2023, by Holiday House.
The main character, Fatima, is a seventeen-year-old high school senior who aspires to become a pastry chef, contrary to what the important people in life want her to do. When her parents and an arranged marriage to her secret crush threatens to rob her of her dreams, Fatima must navigate between parental expectations and personal autonomy. Ultimately, she must decide between losing herself or loving herself.
I made a point of showing my main character living her life, one filled with both shortcomings and successes, in addition to having a passion that was self-driven. It was important to me that Fatima is portrayed experiencing normal teen challenges and feelings, sprinkled with happy times and also issues specific to her, her family dynamics and her faith. I’m hoping this book will spark needed discussions in many groups, especially in Islamic communities.
I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories. They help shape how teenagers view themselves during what can be a difficult time of self-discovery and transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, finding traditionally published Contemporary Young Adult books featuring a Black American Muslim teen as a main character has been almost impossible. As someone who shares that dual marginalization, I decided five years ago to try my hand at writing for teens. It wasn’t easy. My first attempt ended up as a complete, revised manuscript but unfortunately, it didn’t secure agent representation. I wrote another one. In early February 2020, I signed with Kristina Perez and now my second, YA story is my debut.
As a long-time lover of libraries, I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to have the specific subset of America showcased in FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE. Muslims teens of all hues need to be seen in realistic fiction. No young adult should struggle to find themselves with the pages of a book. It is vital that all teens’ realities are validated and seen as universal, while those who are unfamiliar with the nuanced lives of others different from themselves will find common ground within stories about marginalized youth.
Sometimes, I have remind others, usually adults, that the stories I write are fiction. Yes, I will always give each of the Muslim girl protagonists in my stories an impossible choice, because often times life does imitate art. I believe it’s common that the uncomfortable feelings older generations may have to uncomfortable topics are likely a result of not wanting to have certain conversations with today’s youth.
Sadly, librarians, along with teachers, are on the front lines of a culture war. One where a minuscule percentage of the U.S. population is trying to restrict access to books whose points of view or lived experiences, these narrow-minded individuals disagree with. It’s not enough to restrict the teens in their own families from reading works that they deem as controversial, they want to control and dictate what literature all young people should have access to. It’s a scary time for any democratic society.
As a marginalized author who loves to write stories featuring Black American Muslims , I feel targeted. It’s strange thing to admit but it’s a heavy truth for me to bear alone. Like stories featuring non-white protagonists, like mine, are on teetering on the edge of a virtual chopping block, waiting to be pulled from shelves and out of the hands of teens who should be able to choose for themselves what they consume. This scenario could be the plot of a complex, fantasy world. Unfortunately, this is a real life scourge. With bullying, social media pressures, skyrocketing school shootings and gun violence in their everyday lives, coming for young adult books is foolhardy, short-sighted, and serves to keep those in a dwindling majority grasping at the straws of established, racist power systems.
But I and many other authors are so grateful to librarians and education professionals who, in the face of seemingly impossible odds, are ready and willing to fight back against censorship. There are many benefits and niceties to having books traditionally published. At least for me, I’m looking forward to connecting with my target audience, teenagers, and discovering how they view the current book banning phenomenon and listen to their thoughts about what is going on in today’s society. In conjunction with that goal, I’d love to establish a partnership with librarians to ensure that all books have a place on library and classroom shelves.
Yes, I realize that my goals are lofty and I’m just one person. But knowing I’m not alone in this fight is an energizing comfort. It gives me hope and God willing, the fortitude to fight against those who aim to silence my voice and the varied voices of other BIPOC creatives. I’m here to contribute to this cause by first learning and listening to those with more insight than me and those who’ve been in the educational trenches fighting for much longer than I’ve even been aware of the problem.
Thank you again for inviting me to post on the SLJ TLT blog. To those who pick up my debut, young adult novel, I thank you.
Meet the author
Khadijah VanBrakle is a Muslim woman of color, who was born and raised in Canada, to American parents. Her debut Contemporary YA novel, FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE, is being published by Holiday House on June 13, 2023. The story centers around a 17yo Black American Muslim HS senior who wants to be a Pastry Chef but her parents and an arranged marriage to her secret crush take over her life.
My Linktree (with all my links in one place) https://linktr.ee/KhadijahVB
My Website https://www.khadijahvanbrakle.com/
About Fatima Tate Takes the Cake
Fatima Tate wants to be a baker AND enjoy some innocent flirting with her hot friend Raheem—but her strict Muslim parents would never approve of either…
Seventeen-year-old Fatima Tate, aspiring baker (100% against her conservative parents’ wishes), leads a pretty normal life in Albuquerque: long drives with BFF Zaynab, weekly services at the mosque, big family parties, soup kitchen volunteering (the best way to perfect her flaky dough recipe!), stressing about college. But everything changes when she meets a charming university student named Raheem. Knowing the ‘rents would FREAK, Fatima keeps their burgeoning relationship a secret… and then, one day, her parents and his parents decide to arrange their marriage. Amazing! True serendipity!
Except it’s not amazing. As soon as the ring is on Fatima’s finger, Raheem’s charm transforms into control and manipulation. Fatima knows she has to call the whole thing off, but Raheem doesn’t like to lose. He threatens to reveal their premarital sexual history and destroy her and her family’s reputation in their tight-knit Muslim community. Fatima must find the inner strength to blaze her own trail by owning her body, her choices, and her future. Combining the frank authenticity of Elizabeth Acevedo and the complex social dynamics of Ibi Zoboi, FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE is a powerful coming-of-age story that gives a much-needed voice to young Black Muslim women.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/13/2023
Age Range: 14+ Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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