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.