S.K. Ali’s second book, Love from A to Z, follows the story of two Muslim teens, one American of South Asian descent, Zayneb, and the other Adam, a Canadian in Doha of mixed heritage – Finnish and Chinese.
Zayneb’s gone to visit her aunt in Doha, after she’s been suspended from school because she talked back to her teacher after his Islamophobic tirade. Adam’s has to deal with his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, that he still has to tell his family about. Zayneb is known for her outspoken nature by her family, friends and in school, whereas Adam is quieter, more zen in his approach to life’s hurdles.
The book follows these two journal entries, both Adam and Zayneb having a Marvel and Oddities journal, recording their daily marvels and oddities. For Nicola Yoon fans out there, it’s reminiscent of the flow of The Sun is Also a Star novel, in which the reader’s given a first person point of view to events as they unfolded.
We’re warned early on that it’s a love story. But it’s so much more than that.
Here are in no specific order, and with as few spoilers as possible, reasons to love this book, and make it your Summer read.
The staging of their story, with the scene being set on one side of the world and unfolding on the other side of it.
The protagonists meet in the airports of not one, but two continents, and serendipitously cross paths again where Adam lives in Doha.
Knowing beforehand that a love story will unfold doesn’t make you less invested in their love story, it actually keeps you eager to know when they’d meet next, and what will happen, who will make the first move, what their first argument will be about, and how they’ll eventually reconcile. Most importantly, how will they confess their love to each other? All answers you can look forward to.
There’s something even more charming when the love story has that unique serendipitous feel to it; it makes you feel the magic of everyday life.
Now to their backstories: Adam deals with his medical diagnosis and what that means for him and his family; Zayneb faces with different aspects of Islamophobia in her daily life. They’re both young and figuring out how to navigate their current circumstances, in a way that makes you invested in each of their individual stories, and not just their romance.
For both Adam and Zayneb, their families mean a lot to them, which I’ve found to be a common thread in books written by minority writers – or the ones I chose to read, they weave family ties into their characters stories, moreso the value of keeping those relationships harmonious.
Forget Aladdin, Adam will show you the world… well Doha, at least.
Not having read books with Doha as the setting before, it’s something I enjoyed as it added another element to the diversity of the story itself, with two persons from very different backgrounds, meeting by chance and having that developed in a multicultural city such as Doha.
Love from A to Z is unapologetically Muslim. And that’s a very big thing. When there’s a constant expectation to validate yourself, your Muslimness and why you belong in your community, it’s comforting to open the pages of a book like this and immerse yourself in things that are familiar, without explanation, especially if your label is modern Muslim woman, or Muslim woman in the West, a label that alludes to the reconciliation of two identities.
Injustice and harassment, and being on edge because of your identity, particularly a Muslim one, are the main themes of this book; a struggle for Zayneb, as injustice ruffles her feathers. Throughout this story, Zayneb’s on the journey to sort herself out, to be more palatable to those around her, especially after causing distress to her friends because she wasn’t able to control her anger, despite her anger being totally justified. That’s the type of story we can all relate to, I think. When you try to put yourself in boxes to be accepted or tamed, the box is gonna collapse sooner or later. Or better yet, you realize it needs to be thrown out altogether.
When it comes to the everyday lives for many Muslims who consistently need to justify their place, Islamophobia is a very real, jarring fact of life, that is as unpredictable as it is unavoidable. Ali’s inclusion of writing about this is a reminder of the everyday realities of Muslim life in some communities. Geopolitical conflicts are brought home in this book, as an acute reminder of the lasting effects political tactics and decisions have on everyday people. This provides a steep learning curve for Zayneb, as she’s on her journey of renewal.
Here’s a spoiler: Adam is Muslim too, and it would be totally remiss of me to not mention that Zayneb has Trini roots, and as someone who doesn’t get to say that a lot in Muslim YA books, that’s 10 points to S.K. Ali from me.
This book is one of those books that I knew from the get-go I had to read in one sitting, and you should definitely do the same.
Rating: 4.7 out of 5
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