The Gauntlet Author Karuna Riazi on 6 Must-Read YAs Starring Muslim Protagonists

Photo by Linda Rosier

Yesterday Karuna Riazi’s debut middle-grade novel The Gauntlet hit shelves, a thrilling adventure story about 12-year-old hijabi Muslim girl Farah, her annoying but lovable little brother, Ahmad…and The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, a board game gifted to Farah by her eccentric aunt that’s anything but safe. Farah and her friends are sucked inside the game’s dangerous world of Paheli, a Bangladeshi-influenced realm they must battle through to retrieve Ahmad. The book is a must-read release from Simon & Schuster’s Salaam Reads imprint, and today Riazi is sharing six of her own favorite YA reads starring Muslim protagonists.

Debut author Karuna Riazi has long looked for girls like her—a Native New Yorker, she’s Bangladeshi and Black, and grew up with a bustling, heady mix of family and cultures. But that kind of representation is rare on the page. She sees a lot of herself in Farah Mirza, the feisty but bookish hero of her middle grade debut, The Gauntlet, an inverted Jumanji with a hearty dose of Mughal and Middle Eastern influence, and one of the rare adventure stories to star a hijabi Muslim girl. Riazi says she’s also (finally!) seeing more diversity on the page in YA, especially when it comes to Muslim representation. Here are six YA reads with Muslim protagonists Riazi recommends you add to your TBR list right now!

Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed
When Naila falls in love with “the wrong boy,” her hopes and expectations for the future are destroyed by a nightmare, as she is whisked away to Pakistan and told she will be marrying a young man of her parents’ choice, whether she likes it or not. Aisha Saeed’s compellingly crafted look at forced marriage through the lens of Naila’s experiences and struggles (while staying away from a conflation of the heroine’s plight and the concept of arranged marriage on the whole) is both heart-wrenching and all too real.

Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali
Arguably the most anticipated of Salaam Reads’ upcoming titles for the 2017 cycle—and the first YA the imprint has lined up—this debut (already being compared to My So-Called Life) is full of heart and whimsy while tackling tough issues such as assault and its aftermath, and makes you reach for your Kleenex whether you want to or not. In Janna, S.K. Ali has created a heroine who is believable, speaks with the wit and world-weariness of the American Muslim teen, and will win you over with her strength, her faith, and her devotion to Flannery O’Connor. This is one you definitely do not want to miss.

That Thing We Call A Heart, by Sheba Karim
So this sounds like everything you want in the book that will be your summer jam. Cute boy? Check. Stress and strife while reconnecting with a best friend who happens to have her reservations about the cute boy? Check. Oh, and wait, Urdu poetry ending up as a conduit for figuring out what love really is? Check, check, check! This is the type of formula that will end up with you not at all surprised when you hear about the blockbuster movie deal.

 

The Authentics, by Abdi Nazemian
Daria Esfandyar is your average Iranian American girl—proud of her background and her family, and determined to keep it real. At least, until she stumbles onto some very shocking secrets about her past (namely, that she was adopted) and has to reassess just how much she knows about who she is and where she comes from. This sounds like it’s going to be a juicy, fun read while remaining aware of the ground it needs to cover and respectful of the issues at hand.

Ms. Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson
This isn’t really a traditional YA in the way you might expect, but Ms. Marvel is arguably the most legitimate, recognizable, and universally loved Muslim character on the shelves at the moment. Written and developed by two Muslim women, G. Willow Wilson (also respected for her works in adult fiction) and Sana Amanat, this comic series deftly switches gears between its expected superhero arcs and commentary on being an American Muslim teen.

 

 

 

 

 

And one that’s coming next year…

Mirage, by Somaiya Daud
If you’ve been in the YA community long enough, you’ve likely experienced Somaiya Daud’s tongue-in- cheek discourse or remarkable knowledge of classic Islamic folklore and the Arabian Nights, and maybe even been part of a late-night discussion on the validity of dark magical girl narratives. Hopefully, that was enough to get you excited for her debut, which promises to be an incredible Moroccan-inspired adventure featuring a powerful princess’s body double and a palace full of deadly secrets (and, knowing Somaiya, hopefully some intense romantic encounters, too).

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