Publication date : January 29th, 2019
Publisher : Scholastic Press
Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary
Page Count: 336
Synopsis : Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life? (From Goodreads)
*I received an Arc of this book in exchange of an honest review*
CW: Colorism, homophobia, islamophobia, physical assault, hospital, graphic description of rape and domestic abuse, starvation, drugging, forced marriage, death of a loved one, hate crime.
(Spoilers are hidden)
Uh. How does one start a review for a book that’s ripped them open? I have procrastinated this review for a month and a half, I’ve procrastinated it until I literally couldn’t procrastinate it anymore. Because every time I opened the page to start typing it up I felt like I was cracking my heart open and giving the world permission to peer into it and have a panoramic view of my soul, and that idea alone is terrifying. But here I am today, getting my crap together finally, and refusing to go to sleep (it’s past midnight oops) until I finally string some sentences together that will somehow make up a review at the end.
The writing is fairly simple and sometimes…a little scattered, in the way the pacing and emotions were handled. During the first chunk of the book (around a third I’d say), the writing is detached and doesn’t translate the emotions the characters are feeling and that we’re supposed to be feeling with them well. Especially when it came to Rukhsana’s relationship with Ariana, I rooted for them out of principle, and because of how much was at stake, but not because I was invested in them. There was also this thing that happened quite a few times where Rukhsana’s feelings would change from one paragraph to the next. Which is the only reason I ended up not giving the book five starts. Everything else was absolutely amazing. And I was too emotionally invested in the book to rate it any less than 4.5.
The story goes like this: Rukhsana, A Bengladeshi lesbian Muslim girl who’s closeted has a girlfriend, but she also has unaccepting parents. Said parents find out about the girlfriend and everything goes up in flames. And I don’t say that lightely. Everything that happens to Rukhsana is a queer person who’s been brought up in a conservative household’s worst nightmare. I found myself fighting panic and anxiety, tears and fury, having to remind myself that yes, these things happen to so many, but this one in particular is a work of fiction. And honestly, just writing this review is bringing tears to my eyes. That’s how gutting and visceral reading The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali was, I kept forgetting that it was a book.
Remember how I said emotions didn’t translate properly through the writing in the first chunk? Well, that was reversed in the rest of the book, in fact, I was overwhelmed by feelings. The anger, the fear, the resilience, the hope, the desperation, all of it, I could feel every single thing. And what struck me the most is the loneliness of it all. Rukhsana is very close with her brother, at times, he seems to be the only one who truly understands her struggles, but he’s not there when she needs him the most. Her parents are who she’s fighting against. Her friends and girlfriend come from environments that are a lot more liberal so they don’t understand what’s at stake for her, and the kind of pushback she’s facing and most times make her feel even worse.
But then the book surprises you a gives you a sliver of hope in the darkest of corners. Her uncle who pushes back against her parents’ backwards thinking. Irfan, the man she’s forced to marry but who wants the arrangement even less than she does, she finds in him true support and friendship. But most of all, her supportive grandma who is quite frankly a treasure and a well of wisdom. She turned to her words and her guidance whenever she felt helpless and they gave her strength, and I think that the moments she shared with her, or that she spent reading her diary, are the ones that left the biggest mark on me, because they made me realize that bigotry and homophobia aren’t a generational issue, they’re an issue of people being too set in their ways and unwilling to open their hearts.
Because if an elderly lady who’s never left her beloved Bangladesh can accept her gay granddaughter without question, there are no excuses for the rest of the world. And that’s another thing I appreciated about the book, is that it showed that everyone has their own personal opinion and stance regardless of their degree of faith, and that’s something that spoke to me very deeply.
Rukhsana is such a solid main character, Sabina Khan did a great job at showing how weighted down she was by all the choices that were being made for her and the freedoms that were being stripped away from her, while she still kept teenage characteristics to her. She’s strong, confident, and stubborn but in the best way, she refuses to give up on herself, and give in to what her parents are forcing her to do, and I loved that even during her moments of weakness and complete despair, she still had faith that she could find a way out of that situation.
There’s this one plot point towards the end that’s major and changes the direction of the story, that I feel a lot of people would not feel comfortable with. <Spoilers> Irfan, Rukhsana’s supposed soon-to-be husband, is killed by this group of hateful people for being gay. And the way we learn about it is quite sudden, I would say unexpected but…that would be a lie. I saw it coming from miles away. Because those are things that sadly happen, especially since Irfan was an activist in a country that was still very set in its ways and where queer people are seen as an abomination by many, and ESPECIALLY since that group had spotted him. That’s also how Rukhsana’s parents start coming around, so in a way, his death teaches them a lesson. But that’s also something that happens.</Spoilers> I personally didn’t have any issue with those things being used in the plot, as I could easily see them happen in my own country, (which resembles Bangladesh in a lot of ways) to someone I know, even.
This book hit on some very raw and sensitive nerves of mine and for that I can’t help but love it and will forever be grateful for it. Especially, since for how much darkness and despair it holds, the ending is so hopeful and sprinkled with light-hearted moments that had me smiling and sighing with relief. I liked how not every issue was resolved and that Rukhsana still had lot of trauma to work through when it comes to what her parents put her through but there was still this redemption arc that made me see the light at the end of the tunnel and made the future look a lot less glib.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.