Publication date : April 30th, 2019
Publisher : Salaam Reads | Simon & Schuster
Genre : Young Adult |Contemporary
Page Count: 384
Synopsis : A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting. (From Goodreads)
*I was sent a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange of an honest review*
CW: Islamophobia, racist micro-aggression, cultural appropriation, chronic illness, talk of family death, mention of rape, discussion of war and war victims.
Marvel: The fact that Love from A to Z exists.
Oddity: The fact that I already read it and there isn’t any more to the story.
Do you ever go into a book, expect to love it and then…end up loving it even more? Like so much more that you can physically feel it because your heart is squeezing in your chest and all those feelings are begging to burst out of it, because that’s me. I have so so much love for Love from A to Z that I feel like no matter what I end up saying in this review, it won’t do it justice, and I know I love a few other Muslim contemporary books but not one of them has made me feel the way this one made me feel. Happy. Hopeful. Proud to be Muslim. Proud to be me.
The writing is absolutely gorgeous. I knew I loved Ali’s writing in Saints and Misfits, but she just blows it out of the water with her sophomore novel. She has this way with words where she knows just the exact ones to use to make the reader feel whatever emotion the character is feeling without ever being told that that’s how we should feel, it just…happens, and I found myself so invested in Adam and Zayneb’s emotions and personal stakes and journeys that I couldn’t help but root for their growth, not only separately but also together.
Love from A to Z is written in dual perspective, as diary entries in the form of “Marvels” and “Oddities” from both of the main characters’ journals which made the narration introspective and reflective and I loved that about it. There were also a couple narrator interventions that added such a nice touch to the book, further solidifying the fact that these are journals excerpts combined into one book. It also gave it somewhat of a fairytale feel.
The book starts when Zayneb is suspended from school, one week before spring break beings and is sent to spend two weeks with her aunt in Doha, while on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, in London, Adam is packing to go back home to his dad and sister in Doha. First of all, can I say how appreciative I am of the non-Western setting to the story? I loved it so much, mainly for the fact that Qatar is a Muslim country so it was -almost- completely removed from the context of Islamophobia Zayneb is so used to, living in the US, as a hijabi, a very visibly Muslim woman.
I also appreciated how through her characters main and side alike, the author showed so many different Muslim experiences. From Zayneb who was born and raised Muslim, to Adam who converted at eleven, including her mom who converted when she got married and his dad when he was grieving his own wife. And I love how all the things that make them the Muslim people they are were thrown so casually, as it should be.
Love from A to Z tackles Islamophobia but not in its loudest, most violent forms. It dives deep into the daily struggles of Muslims in the US (and other western countries), it shows how teachers, neighbors, acquaintances can all hate you for merely stating your beliefs and they wouldn’t tell you out right, they wouldn’t spit it in your face, but every and each word is wrapped in barbs and wires, every and each word is uttered with hatred that they don’t even try to hide, every and each word is said to tell you that you are everything that is wrong with the world for existing, for daring to believe in something different from what they believe in. And that hate speech wears you thin until you snap, and when you snap, to them, it’s not a human reaction, it’s proving them that everything they’ve ever thought about you is right. And that hurt so much to read, but it was also incredible. Because Islamophobia isn’t always loud and in your face, it’s the seemingly Mr. nobody, the “nice” person next door too. That’s what her teacher, Mr. Fencer represents.
And I loved how that was handled with everything in me. I loved how Zayneb in all her perfect imperfection handled it. I loved Zayneb and how unapologetically Muslim and unapologetically angry she was. And you know what I loved most about her? It’s that anger, and the way she navigated it. I could see so much of myself in her because I was that angry kid who burst out at every occasion and I was that angry teenager who had to learn to pick her battles, and that sometimes your anger is sometimes better quiet. I saw myself in her portrayal as an angry Muslim girl who was always told to keep her head down, to stop being so angry even when there are so many things to be angry about. So I loved seeing her grow and embrace that anger while also learning to wield it without ever really letting go of it, because I’m still an angry adult. I’ve just learned better.
Zayneb is jaded beyond her years because of the discrimination she faces, she’s also angry at said discriminations and refuses to hide it, she’s very vocal about everything that’s wrong with the world and feels the pain, not only hers but also that of every injustice, very deeply and wants to DO something about it. She is strong, confident and so so open about her feelings and that was very refreshing to read. She was also unapologetic and very sure in her Muslim-ness, and nothing could sway her from that, not even the world’s hatred. I was angry, sad, and happy for her all at once. Zayneb is Trini-Pakistani (her Trini side being of West Indian descent) and through her Pakistani side, Ali was able to broach the topic of the victims to the wars that are raging in West Asia (mainly Pakistan for…obvious reasons) as we speak, without erasing the US’ role in all those lost lives, and destroyed lands. And how even as a diaspora kid, Zayneb was still grieving for her people. And this is an element I didn’t expect to find in the story.
On the other hand, we have Adam, a biracial white/Chinese boy who’s so soft and gentle and caring, and who’s strength is more quiet, it works behind the scenes and shows in the way he is with his sister, his friends, and the way he’s been such a pillar for his family through all their hardships. He’s wildly optimistic and likes to see the good in things while still having this sadness to him that was ingrained in him by losing his mom, seeing his dad grieve and then finding out that he, himself, has the disease that killed his mom and having to come to term with it. I cannot speak for the representation of Multiple Sclerosis in this book but as the author’s note says, and, Adam’s manifestation of MS is just one of so many.
Now you’re probably raising your eyebrows and wondering: Fadwa, this book deals with so many heavy topics, why the hell does your title say “Unapologetically happy”, and let me tell you that despite the hardships, heartbreak, the grief, the sadness and the anger, Love from A to Z gave me an unfiltered kind of happiness that only a few books have given me. That happiness that comes with seeing representation that’s *for* me, and every other Muslim reader out there. That happiness that comes with seeing your feelings and struggles mirrored and validated. That happiness that comes with seeing that despite everything we can be put through, we still find ways to be happy, we still can be happy. It’s the kind of happiness that makes you cry.
Ali showed that even though, we, as Muslims, deal with a ton of shit, we still deserve our happiness and claw our way to it, while we still manage to find it in the smallest of things. Love from A to Z made me smile with Hanna (Adam’s little sister) in all her heartwarming innocence and adorableness, it made me laugh in the little dorky jokes that run between Adam and Zayneb, in the inside jokes that only Muslims can get the full impact of because we’ve either made the same ones, or have heard someone make them, and it made me fall in love with Adam & Zayneb’s love. Like seriously, they do not as much as touch until THE EPILOGUE and yet they had me internally screaming for their love and chemistry from the start. The banter between them flows so easily and I loved how open they were about their attraction to each other without acting on it. The anticipation of them finally being together was well fed by their cuteness once I reached the epilogue, so much so that it had me squealing. I lived for those last few pages.
By the time I flipped to the last page, my heart was filled with love and gratefulness and my eyes with tears. It was such a bittersweet feeling because on the one hand, I’m so happy this book exists I could wax poetry about it, but on the other hand I’m so sad there isn’t more of it, that I can’t read Love from A to Z for the first time all over again and experience the range of emotions it made me feel for the first time again.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read Love from A to Z? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.