This has been a pretty amazing year for me in terms of discovering five star reads, and this was definitely my latest and probably most personally beloved.
So here’s the thing. When I read a book with Muslim rep, I have a habit of asking “if this was a book about believing Christians, how comfortable would I be reading this?” But I couldn’t apply that thinking to All-American Muslim Girl because I was too busy feeling it with all my All-American Muslim heart. Even now, several days after finishing it, when I’ve had a chance to take a breath and think about it, I get too emotional to really interrogate my reading. Perhaps I will revisit this subject another time!
That said, oh, what a book! Our titular character is Allie Abraham, the red-headed, pale-skinned daughter of a Circassian-Jordanian dad and a blonde white-American mom who freely converted before marriage. Her family moves from university town to university town due to her dad’s job in academia, so when it comes to school, Allie’s always felt a little left out, especially as she approaches her sixteenth birthday. Now living in an Atlanta suburb, she meets a cute boy named Wells and starts falling for him. But she’s also started trying to learn more about the Muslim faith and heritage that her dad has so firmly turned his back on, which leads to all sorts of conflict, expected or otherwise.
I am ngl, I cried buckets reading this book, as Allie begins to explore Islam and find out what it means to her heart and soul. It’s one of the few books on the market about a young Muslim girl choosing faith while fighting prejudice, while also figuring out what it means to be Muslim in 21st century America. Each Muslim character in this book was so beautifully painted as an individual with his or her own connection to the faith, defying the stereotype that Muslims are a monolith. Allie’s journey to love and faith are thoughtfully and sensitively explored, unsurprising given that the book is a semi-autobiographical #OwnVoices novel. I loved it to pieces, in no small part because I felt it reflected parts of my own journey in keeping, however imperfectly, my faith.
I don’t usually comment on other people’s negative opinions of books I like but I made the mistake of deep-diving into the Goodreads reviews and had to lol at all the fundies, Muslim or otherwise, banging on about how wrong this book was in its portrayal of Islam. Nadine Jolie Courtney’s point is that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and the bitchy reviewers are all upset that she’s not advocating for a hardline interpretation of the faith, like okay, go back to hating on everyone who doesn’t believe what you do. Weirdly, all the hijabi girls offended at Allie’s religious journey reminded me of the tradish Lakota girls who bullied Marie, the heroine of another book I recently read, David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s excellent Winter Counts, for not being Native enough. Some people just get off on being more “authentic” than thou: I just wish they could see how much absurd bigotry they have in common with the people who revile them and knock it the fuck off.
You might also be interested in Zeitgeist by Bruce Sterling. It’s all about Y2K and thus pretty dated, but the premise is a girls’ group (a la Spice Girls) called G7 with, obvsly, a girl from each of the countries. Only things start to get weird, with the girls having accidents and getting replaced by an emblematic Muslim girl from the same country. And not always obvious choices, kinda like the Circassian background here. After it gets weird, it gets meta, but I liked it. Plus it’s shortish.
Zeitgeist definitely sounds up my alley! Shockingly, it isn’t available as an eBook. I’ll have to look out for when it is!