Book Review: Love, Hate And Other Filters

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I started following the author Samira Ahmed on Twitter a while back when her book was yet to be published. I followed her through the preview of her cover art and the eventual publication date. The premise of the book is that of a teen figuring out her place in the world amid islamophobia and immigrant narratives. I placed a hold on the book at my local library and picked it up yesterday.

The book is a quick read. It starts predictably with a Big Indian Wedding, the numerous aunties, and the inevitable matchmaking talk. We get the “learn to cook else you will die a spinster” trope thrown in as well. Just when I despaired that perhaps the book will be a giant let down, it sped up and coasted along at a comfortable pace.

I had to keep reminding myself the audience is the young adult, not 40 something aunties. Once I kept that in the front of my head, I was able to enjoy the book.

The protagonist Maya is a high schooler with just the summer between her and college. Her parents, Indian immigrants, and dentists want her to study law close to home. She, however, is in love with filmmaking. She applies for and gets into NYU, a long way from home. Just when she thinks she will leave school without being kissed, a boy she has crushed on since elementary school notices her.

The Good Indian Boy her parents set her up with at the wedding at the beginning of the book? He is a dream come true. When her social life starts heating up, a terrorist incident in the town she lives in upends her otherwise calm life. She grapples with questions about what she wants from life.

What I loved about the book is the authenticity that Ahmed brings to it. You get the Indian family that is not a caricature. Their house smells of onions and kheema parathas. They attend loud, vibrant weddings. There are aunties and uncles. The protagonist leads a normal life without her parents going through her things or hovering over her. They expect great things from her and are let down when she rebels.

The supporting characters in the form of the best friend, the aunt who is supportive and the boy crush are people you can find in your life. They are relatable. You finish the book and feel satisfied the way a good book is meant to make you feel,

Then a couple of hours later you wonder. You wonder if the book could have gone just a little further, dug a little deeper, pushed the boundaries a little more. A day later you are rewriting the book with the hundred little things that would have made it great.

For a book selling the story of a Muslim protagonist, you get very little of what it is like to be the other. While the immigrant experience is spot on, it leaves you wanting more. You want the author to talk about what faith means to the protagonist in light of the Islamophobia. You want to hear what the parents talk when they are out of sight. You want to feel the fear that they take to bed.

Then you realize, perhaps as a seventeen-year-old dreaming of her first kiss and getting into NYU, there are some things you do not want to think about. This is Maya’s story, not yours.

2 comments

  1. I would like to go anonymous on this. I worry about the Islamaphobia and yet I find having a regular conversation with Muslim acquaintance about what faith means to them for fear of coming across as an Islamophobic. I want to ask friends/acquaintance who wear hijabs and have MBAs and are struggling to get ahead in career, if hijab is a factor in them not getting a more senior role. I want to ask those full Burqua clad women in 110 degree summer or on a lakeside, why is that their husband is running around in shorts and is it really faith or conditioning that is making them wear these full Burquas. I struggle to understand why it is modest to wear hijab per Islam to not attract attention and yet do makeup tutorial and wear attractive hijabs which everyone seems to notice.

    Most of all I worry about our children growing up in this climate and how to teach them to embrace everyone and other’s faith.

    • Anon, Why the hesitation to ask your friend? Is it because it is possible you understand that every religion has its problem areas? No matter which faith patriarchy is universal. I cannot speak for Islam or Christianity or other religions. I can only speak from experience. I grew up conditioned to believe boys were meant to have jobs and careers. I grew up conditioned to believe marriage was the end goal of my life. I was conditioned to believe motherhood is the holy grail. I learned to cover up and keep my head down long before I understood what sexual assault meant. I knew better as I grew yet the conditioning held me back.

      Even now at forty plus I grapple with simple things like hair wash after periods or wearing thaali or going to temple when I have my period. IMO there is no right or wrong except in my head yet there are things that hold me back.

      Faith like everything else is part conditioning and part belief system. You should ask your friend the questions you are asking but also be prepared to turn the focus inward and take a hard look at the conditioning we are subject to. Hijab is just a symbol. We each wear one in different forms.

      As far as the book itself, my wish was for the protagonist to dwell on her feelings toward her faith and how the negative associations molded her identity.

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