Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin

Every so often, the publicist Alex Kelleher-Nagorski (hi, Alex!) sends me a book and starts firmly (but gently) persuading me to read it. This is one of those books. I was genuinely afraid that I wouldn’t have time to get into it but Alex assured me that it would be totally worth my time. After cracking the book open and plunging into the very first pages over the weekend, I was hooked. He was absolutely right, and I will never doubt his recommendations again.

(Separately from Alex but related to my reading in general: it was also really nice to just tear through this book in a matter of hours. I’ve been in that reader’s malaise where I start wondering “Is it me? Am I just bad at reading?” when I’m struggling to get through 300-odd pages over the course of several days. But then I come across a book like this that reassures me that I am not the problem. Seema Yasmin’s writing just draws you in and doesn’t let go, and I loved every minute of it.)

Anyhoo, Unbecoming is set in a near-future America where abortion has not only been criminalized but anyone found to be aiding an abortion, even if it’s just by walking with someone seeking the medical procedure towards the premises providing it, can face serious criminal charges. Two Muslim teenagers in the heart of Texas decide to fight back against this clear injustice by writing an underground, online guide to getting an abortion — and not just because first-trimester abortions are entirely legal in Islamic jurisprudence.

Layla is a hijaab-wearing, mosque-loving perfectionist who’s obsessively planned her life out so that she can go to med school on the East Coast and become an ob-gyn like the one who helped her mother. Noor is a pansexual crusading journalist who’s already won prestigious awards for her high school paper but has a weakness for pillow talk. Together, they’ve been meticulously researching their guide in anticipation of launch while juggling their school work, extracurriculars and relationships.

But when Layla’s romantic life takes an unexpected turn and one of Noor’s workshops turns up a surprising lead, the two girls start keeping secrets from one another. Over the course of a tumultuous week or so, they work not exactly at cross-purposes but in ways that definitely prove that they’re stronger together than by trying to muddle through their issues separately. They learn, too, the power of accepting help, overcoming shame and not making assumptions, essential lessons for their (and by extension the readers’) activism.

This is a wildly entertaining page-turner of a near-future thriller, with leads whose flaws are entirely plausible for their being teenagers. Ms Yasmin does a fantastic job of underlining the fact that the issue isn’t just abortion but reproductive rights and education as well: people with uteruses should be empowered to make their own informed choices about how many children they want to have and when. She further delves into the sociopolitical ramifications of government regulating what happens in the bedroom, even highlighting a very horrifying chapter of the Indian Emergency that was sponsored by the United States government. It’s a heartbreaking story that should kindle a fire for justice in the heart of anyone with even an ounce of humanity.

That said, Unbecoming itself is a terrific story of hope, solidarity and empowerment, that serves also as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that the current political climate of creeping fascism is fine. Rights must continuously be fought for because fascists will never stop trying to take them away. This book will hopefully remind people of that fact, while also inspiring us all to keep fighting for what’s right.

Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin will be published tomorrow July 9 2024 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers and is available for pre-order from all good booksellers, including

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/07/08/unbecoming-by-seema-yasmin/

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