I liked it …BUT unpopular opinion coming ahead.
American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.
Thoughts before reading:
I was seeing this book every where since a month. Be it my on blog reader, Twitter/ Insta or even Goodreads timeline. This book was everywhere, so of course I had massive expectations. That plus story being about an asian girl, was a instant connect for me. Though i am a Hindu Indian but not Muslim Indian like the protagonist, most of the cultural obligations are same, so i was really looking forward to see how that plays out here.
The plot revolves around Maya, an America-Indian Muslim and her constant struggle to find herself. One one side, you are expected to follow all your traditions and accept all its teachings and values while on other you are constantly surrounded by american culture and everyone in your school place, work is indeed american. So where do you go. Where do you stand in the game of life? Its like being stuck between two extremely different cultures and not knowing how to identify yourself. Ethnically you are one, but your thoughts and beliefs follow other.
Maya wants to learn film making but her parents are against it. She wants to date a american guy, which is an immediate no negotiation deal from her family side. She is being set up for an possible arranged marriage by her family but she is just 17 and has so many dreams she wants to pursue before she settles. Its a perfect scenario of a teen life crisis. And if that wasn’t enough, there a terrorist attack, by a person who was identified to be a Muslim, and hence her entire community facing the backlash of sharing the same ethnicity…..Dilemmas and problems surrounds Maya in every step of her life.
Maya: Protagonist. Loves film-making. Only Child. Respects her parents but does not believe in the same cultural values and obligations as them. Feels constantly caged. Has crush on a classmate Phil who is not a Muslim.
Phil: Football captain and star player, Part of the cool clique in school who is dating lisa. He knew Maya but became a good friend after a shared school project. He secretly dislikes football and hopes of being a EMT doctor, but is afraid to accept this in front of his friends and family. Despite coming from a totally different background, he finds himself connecting with Maya the most, even above his own girlfriend.
Mom Dad: They have names (MR. and Mrs. Aziz) but i am just going to address them as Maya’s parents at this point. Indian-Muslims who had a love marriage, came to america even when their parents opposed. But they are strong believers in their traditions and care too much about their image in their community. Shows signs of hypocrisy when it comes to their only child but its portrayed to be coming out of fear for her safety and love. Oh and both are doctors.
Hina: She is Maya’s mom sister, younger to Maya’s mom by ten years. Maya describes as independent, 40, husband-less, childless, yet the strongest person she knows. She respects her the most, even above her own parents. She is happy to see Hina break out of the stereotypical cage of her religion and doing something which she loves for herself and living the best life possible. Hina supports Maya at all important times in maya’s life.
Kareem: An honest, straightforward and decent college guy who was set up to be Maya’s potential husband. Becomes a great supporter and friend of Maya over the course of the story.
Violet: Maya’s american and only best friend who always supports Maya in finding herself and to do things that makes her happy. Even after the attack by a possible Muslim terrorist, her attitude and friendship does not change towards Maya, and becomes a great help during that tragic situation.
I felt that only Maya and Phil had any real growth in terms of character development. Everyone else was pretty much same as their character introductions.
The story starts with a light setting and shows a typical scenarios of Maya’s life. Her struggles to choose between Phil and Kareem at the same time not disappointing her parents was very relatable. The story did a fine job of capturing the constant internal debate of Maya, of wanting to be a ideal daughter vs. wanting to just be herself. This can also be seen in the decision of selecting a college of her choice vs one her parents wants her to go.
The development of her and Phil’s relationship and her equation with Kareem is also very transitioned beautifully and you can actually see the life dilemma of a 17 year old girl and empathize with it.
Each chapter has a journal entry-ish style of a passage written about a mysterious person, clearly going through abusive situations and his thought process as a result of those circumstances. It hints towards possible attack against humanity and a few harmful steps the person has already taken.
Though it was interesting to try to guess who this person was, it also felt like a hindrance to me. I was not able to invest in these short passages because they had no relation towards the ongoing story up untill the end. Only after 70% of the story does this come into the main picture. So for the longest time, even though i knew it was going to be an integral part of the end, i was just not interested in reading it, and giving it my full focus. I was more or less skimming through it.
A very important factor of racial terrorism and its effect in the lives of the people was introduced half way past the story. That was very maturely handled by the author, and was a mirror to the reality. Its effects on our lives as a whole was very brilliantly portrayed, but i found myself questioning, was that really needed?…….
Don’t get me wrong, i know how much damage a situation like that can do and its repercussions and all, but i just did not see the need for it here. Or rather i felt it was underplayed. Let me put it this way, was it needed to show the character development of maya from a confused to a strong independant girl yes. But did it play any other role…No. I feel topics of such great relevance, if depicted, should also hold meaning and a connection to the story and should have a very important and desicive role to play in the climax.
The racial hate Brian had for Maya came due to situation in brian’s brother experience in iraq and 9/11 was already an existing example if needed. So was there a need to break away from the teenage life problems and mix it with this? If it was to show the implications of being a American, Indian but specifically a Muslim, that was shown and justified brilliantly in all the scenes with her parents and her relatives. They were very cleverly brought into the limelight. And also the conclusion of her becoming her own person…just becoming Maya regardless of her ethnicity, could have easily been shown minus the terrorist tangent. I dont have a problem with the terrorist theme but only and only when its serves a valid purpose for the story, which i found lacking here.
And that is why even though i really liked this book, i did not end up loving it. Hence the unpopular opinion.
All in all this was a really good read but fell short from becoming a great read. I could simply call it a nice one-time-read. Having said that, i did enjoy it way-way better than ‘Dimple met Rishi’, which was just felt like a over the top depiction of an how people think Indians must be as supposed to how they really are.
Star rating: 3/5!
WILL I READ THIS BOOK AGAIN : NO
WILL I READ ANOTHER BOOK BY THE SAME AUTHOR : YES.
Happy reading 😀