Today on the B&N Teen blog, we welcome Samira Ahmed, who made a big impression with her debut, Love Hate & Other Filters, last year. This week, she’s set to cement her spot as a voice to be reckoned with in YA with Internment, a tough, tender, and timely contemporary that hits a little too close to home in today’s fraught America. Here, she shares 6 other Muslim voices that are making a major mark on YA today.
“We are not a monolith.” You’ve heard groups from every (all!) marginalized backgrounds saying this. Why? Because when part of your identity is not considered the default by the majority, you find yourself in the ridiculous position constantly having to explain the obvious—that one individual doesn’t represent the entire group. How often have we seen Muslims (or the Black community or LGBQT folks or, well, any POC group or religious minority) be called upon to explain/apologize for/own/defend the actions or words of a single individual because, what, we are all our fellow Muslim’s keeper? I’m living for the day when all white men in America have to stand up and apologize for, say, Timothy McVeigh or Dylan Roof or Donald Trump. Yeah, not holding my breath.
I often come across folks who think Muslim is an ethnic identity—like we all come from Muslim-istan or something. Yet, Islam is the most diverse religion in America. Muslims have been on American soil since before it was the United States—between 15 to 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslims. Many think of Muslims as “foreign” yet nearly 90 percent of us are United States citizens and no racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of Muslims in America.
Our bookshelves should reflect our world. And though publishing still has work to do and a ways to go before that is a reality, I’m heartened to see more young adult contemporary books by Muslim authors in the world. I literally had ZERO books that I reflected my life or experience growing up as the only Muslim and South Asian kid in a small Midwestern town. I believe that every child deserves to see themselves as a hero on the page and the protagonist in their own story. These wonderful Muslim authors writing in the YA contemporary space are giving more kids that chance and I’m grateful for them. We contain multitudes. Let us tell all our stories.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, by Sabina Khan
Sabina’s YA debut, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, is heartbreaking, honest, and hopeful and I adore it so much. Following the story of a young Bangladeshi-American girl, who loves her family, faith, and culture but when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend, those ties are strained and all her plans fall apart. Sabina shares a very real and powerful story about being true to all parts of yourself without compromising what you love.
Not the Girls You’re Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi
Not the Girls You’re Looking For is a story about multicultural identity, friendship, the power of acerbic wit, a fake drowning, a massive scene during Ramadan, and a beignet shop. Yes, really. And that is just a part of it. This story about 17 year old Lulu pushes the reader to confront stereotypes even while Lulu is defying them and takes an unflinching look at consent and the repercussions when sexual boundaries are tread upon. Can’t get enough Aminah? (Us either!) Luckily, you can pre-order her upcoming Tell Me How You Really Feel (on shelves June 11) now!
Down and Across, by Arvin Ahmadi
In Down and Across, Sakett “Scott” Ferdowsi has a problem. He can’t seem to stick to anything and then he learns that the singular key to ensuring a successful life, the one his parents expect from him, is grit—the ability to make decisions and abide by them. But Scott has trouble committing to things as simple as breakfast choices. On a quest to find the tenacity that has so far eluded him, Scott sneaks off on a riotous road trip that has him crossing paths with badass crossword puzzle enthusiast, an academic, a bartender, and most importantly, his own ambitions and dreams. Next up for Arvin is the much-anticipated Girl Gone Viral, on shelves in May.
All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney
You’ve probably never heard of Circassian Muslims. I hadn’t until I met Nadine and heard about her upcoming YA, All-American Muslim Girl. Popular, strawberry-blonde haired, hazel-eyed Allie has a lot going for her—good grades, a great family, and a sweet popular boyfriend. She’s also a Muslim—though not a practicing one—and most people don’t know it, including her boyfriend, whose father just happens to be a notoriously conservative shock jock and would not approve. When Allie witnesses increasing Islamophobia in her small town and across the country, instead of pushing her farther away from her faith, she’s drawn to it—to learn about it, practice it, embrace it, in ways that could put her at odds with her community and her friends. Who is she when some of the perfect labels are stripped away? This story is about the beauty of finding your place and realizing who you truly are.
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi
Atia is an award-winning foreign correspondent and a child of refugees who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Her second novel, A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, is a heartbreaking and harrowing story narrated by Destiny about Tareq, a young man whose life in war-torn Syria is ripped apart by bombs and threats from Daesh. Tareq must find his courage and resilience as his family sets off on a dangerous journey to try to save their lives. This is one family’s story but it reflects a reality that too many families and children face—as refugees fleeing from wars that do not spare the innocent. In America, too often, we center ourselves in the world and in history, forgetting the conflicts beyond our borders and ignoring the role our nation often plays in them. This book asks the readers to bear witness and to ask difficult questions and to view the world through a lens that isn’t solely white and western.
Home and Away, by Candice Montgomery
I first crossed paths with Candice when I read her short story, “Love God Herself,” for Habibi, a collection of stories written by Muslim women, centering love. That story was real and devastating. Candice is unapologetically Black, unapologetically Muslim, and unapologetically a badass. Her debut, Home and Away is honest and raw, and explores the complexities of identity, family bonds, and romantic love. Did I mention that Tasia, the main character also is the cornerback for her football team—the only girl on the team at her private school? Yeah, really. Like she says, she’s Black and fabulous. I love this nuanced look at living in different worlds and of examining who you are when the world you know is upended. Next up: By Any Means Necessary, which you’ll want in your hot little hands by any means necessary.