Saturday, December 12, 2020

YA Review: All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

Title: All-American Muslim Girl

Author: Nadine Jolie Courtney

Year Published: 2019

Category: YA fiction
Pages: 432
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (GA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Allie Abraham has it all going for her--she's a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she's dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells's father is Jack Henderson, America's most famous conservative shock jock...and Allie hasn't told Wells that her family is Muslim. It's not like Allie's religion is a secret, exactly. It's just that her parents don't practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith--studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the "perfect" all-American girl? What does it mean to be a "Good Muslim?"And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in? 
 
Review: Here's another book that I thought was slow, but it turns out it was because I was reading about 10 pages a day for 5 days. Duh! My friend Laura Simeon (graduate school colleague in the early '90s, past elementary librarian, and now the Young Adult Editor at Kirkus Reviews... go Laura!) recommended this book and so, I thank her. In her review, Laura said, "The book handles the complexity and intersectionality of being a Muslim American woman with finesse, addressing many aspects of identity and Islamic opinions."

Alia is a great character because she is smart enough to know what she wants and to go for it, unsure of herself to question what she's doing and why, but strong enough to stand up for herself and others when she needs to. She has been raised in a secular family with a Catholic mom (who converted to Islam when she married) and a Muslim dad, but she is toying with the idea of "taking on" her her Muslim religion, much to the chagrin her dad and of those around her. 

Side note: I married a Muslim (but did not convert) and our daughter was raised in a secular household where she did not learn Swahili (my ex-husband's first language) or Arabic. Now as a college student, she one of her majors is Africana Studies and one of her minors is Arabic Language and culture. My theory is that when we are raised in one of our cultural groups, we seek out the other to better understand it.

Anyway, as Alia begins to pray, tries wearing the hijab for a day, decides to fast during Ramadan, and begins to learn Arabic, she is confronted with Islamophobia, pointed questions, and outright hatred. I love the things she says to these people, both her peers and adults, to school them on her beliefs and their ignorance! She says the things we all wish we said when faced with hatred and cruelty. 

Through all of this, the best part is Alia's internal struggle. If she is becoming more religious, is it okay to date the boy she really likes? Does she have to wear the hijab? Can she be "American" and Muslim? Her decision making process is an important one, mostly because it shows that each of us is an individual who interprets our religion in a way that works for us. No group is a monolith, surely a message that fits 2020.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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