Cover Design: Maeve Norton
Book Depository: Paperback
Content Warnings: Homophobia; arranged marriage; child abuse; xenophobia; murder
Rukhsana Ali has found a balance between most of the important aspects of her life – she has been accepted into Caltech, her first choice university, she has amazing friends and has a girlfriend she loves. However, her parents have to remain on the outside of everything else, as they would not approve of Rukhsana’s sexuality – in fact, Rukhsana is not sure to what lengths they would actually go to prevent her from being herself. Sadly, she is forced to find out, as her secret relationship is discovered by her mother and everything becomes tumultuous and uncertain.
One thing Rukhsana has become accustomed to is gossip, her aunties constantly gossip about other Bengali families, and Rukhsana can accept a bit of gossip about herself after it is revealed to her family she is a lesbian. However, her mother cannot take the idea of being gossiped about and immediately whisks her daughter away to Bangladesh, with the intention of marrying her to a man – something which goes completely against her daughter’s very identity. Rukhsana’s mother was somewhat biased to begin with, tending to treat her daughter differently from her son, and telling her daughter she must become a good cook for her future husband, whilst maintaining that her son must work hard on his studies, despite Rukhsana actually being stronger in terms of academia. This makes her difficult to like initially, but once the story progresses, you begin to deeply dislike her for her misinformed decisions, and wonder how she could possibly put her daughter through it all.
However, Sabina Khan’s message here surrounds culture – my culture is different from this one, and therefore, I cannot possibly understand the complex machinations of it without reading books like this one. When asked why she has forgiven her mother and father towards the end, Rukhsana mentions culture, and allows room for mistakes, given the out of date views her particular culture sometimes possesses. Khan offsets these horrific views, with all of the positive, beautiful aspects of Rukhsana’s culture, such as the close knit community, familial bonds, food and clothing, which can often be ignored when the media has an alternative agenda.
Despite being young, I thought Rukhsana had an extremely mature way of organising her thoughts, and she seemed to understand when she was in the wrong compared with when something was the fault of other people. However, she never held grudges, and always gave people a chance to explain themselves and apologise. This is a good example for young adults reading this book, and is something I would love to see more of in books for this age group.
If homophobia is a trigger for you, then I would strongly recommend giving this particular book a miss, because there are some significantly uncomfortable scenes within it. One particular example, is when Rukhsana is forced to undergo an exorcism in order to remove the djinn that is ‘causing’ her homosexuality, and another involves the man she becomes betrothed too being brutally murdered for being gay. These two parts in the book made me cry, because no one should ever face violence or disownment for being who they are.
The only partial negative I have for the book is that the writing was somewhat simple, but I can understand why this is the case, given the targeted age group and the important subject matter. I would thoroughly recommend it for all age groups, as it gives an insight into what it is like to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community whilst simultaneously attempting to please religious communities and parents. I am lucky in that my sexuality is more or less accepted where I live, and despite there being some bigots, am able to live in relative peace. However, this is not the case everywhere, and it is important to learn more about different experiences.