The Canada Reads shortlist is out! I started reading from the longlist already, and I am sad that this one didn’t make the cut. I’ve never read a book from the point of view of a Muslim teenage girl before, and I think this Young Adult debut novel written by a Toronto based teacher, was very much in line with the Canada Reads 2018 theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. It seems to me that we could use more stories from and for Muslim women living in Canada.
The voice in this girl-power story features Janna Yusuf dealing with her parents divorce, trying to fit in at school where a lot of people don’t understand her religion, and navigating adolescence in the best way she can. A boy at school who she’s been crushing on likes her back, but Janna knows her family will not approve, and another who is well respected in the Muslim community, assaults her at a friend’s party…who are the saints, misfits and monsters? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
The importance of this novel is capturing authenticity and nuance in Muslim life and getting away from unhelpful stereotypes. Ali has done a great job of giving the average Canadian teen some tools for understanding the diversity in our society. I loved this remark from a Goodreads review, Softlykaz wrote: “Seeing yourself represented in a book when you live in a world that sometimes puts you in a box and being able to identify with the MC is the equivalent of walking in the cold and then suddenly the sun hits your face and it’s like a warm hug you didn’t ask for but it happened.”