Dhul-Qadah 1440 / July 2019's Book Club Pick — Love from A to Z by S.K.Ali
Updated: Jan 14
Assalamu aleikum waramatulahi wabarakatuhu everyone!
Welcome and thank you for tuning in for another issue of our book club. We will start with a quick interview with the author and then follow by a Q&A by the readers which include Authors Nevien Shaabneh and Shireen Hakim, blogger Maryam.J, and Editor Saffiya.M.
I'm Author Papatia Feauxzar — your host and moderator. So, let's get to it insha'Allah.
Love from A to Z centers on Adam Chen and Zayneb Malik; two multi-ethnicity Muslim teens or young adults. They both keep a personal journal inspired by the manuscript titled The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence compiled several centuries ago by Zakariya Qazwini. We could say that besides their faith, journaling is their coping mechanism in the face of loss, sickness, love and mounting angst due to the Islamophobic climate. The last part is more Zayneb's trial.
To continue, Zayneb is suspended from school because of her Islamophobic teacher, and her parents send her to Doha to take her mind off things. It's on this trip to visit her aunt that she meets Adam who has recently been diagnosed with MS.
Mr. Chen is also going to visit his family not knowing how to break down the news of his diagnosis to them since this disease has also claimed the life of one of his beloved parent and left unhealed wounds.
An electric charge passes through Adam and Zayneb when they first meet at the airport and a new challenging journey adds to their personal baggage. I mean Muslims don't date, and it's even makruh when a boy and girl of age interact without a chaperone.
How are they going to be halal for one another and will they be able to control their natural young adult urges? Those are the questions they want to solve while dealing with other personal stuff.
Finally, the novel is filled with other characters who are both supporting and entertaining. Interesting right?
Fofky's rating : 4/5 .
Alhamdullilah, the author is with us to give us some insights on her second novel and we're going dive right in.
Papatia Feauxzar : I felt like Adam and Zaynab had a “Holiday in Doha” instead. But theirs was a soul-searching journey. Have you heard of the expression “Holiday is Goha” from Outsourced ?
S.K.Ali : No, I haven't heard of this expression before but yes, I meant this trip of theirs is supposed to be a soul-searching, transformative journey for both of them. I think I was thinking of another saying which I don't have the exact words for but can be summed up as: I traveled far to come back home to myself.
PF : I see. Cool. So one of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Girls like me who see and feel the pains and problems of the world don’t make sense to people. So maybe we’re meant to be alone, or only with people exactly like us.” Would you say that Zayneb is a peculiar misfit?
SKA : I didn't write Zayneb to be a misfit, just someone who takes on things and stands up for things bravely. Which is a rare sort of person on a current basis. She has been a rare sort of person in the past as well, sadly. That's why she feels alone.
PF : Yea, she is not totally socially awkward but she is definitely different. Okie, moving on, I consider Adam and Zainab’s journals a sort of gratitude journals. The book also sheds Islamic history beneficial for non-Muslims readers. Additionally, Love from A to Z has a highly self-reflective vibe and can get a bit into saving Muslimah syndrome but it’s all well intended IMO. What were goals in writing the story if I missed the mark?
S.K.A : The goals were manifold but my primary concern was to write a love story that unfolds the way love has for myself and many of my friends and family; in that halal, awkward yet sweet way. I wanted to focus on Muslim love that's not "arranged marriage," on Muslim love that is people just meeting and deciding to let things unfold, while staying true to their commitment to their faith, as they see it. I also wanted to make sure to feature characters that are not into mono-cultural interpretations of being Muslim, as this is my reality and the realities of friends around me—most of us are in marriages outside our own cultural backgrounds and are bringing up kids who don't identify with one culture only. So, this was important to me. And yes, I did want to incorporate a historical text by a Muslim because it's beyond time such books slid into the canon too.
PF : I agree. Well, thank you so much for responding to our questions. Now, the readers will take the floor and we will end after that insha'Allah.
And now the Book Club Questions....
1. What did you like most?
NS: This is a delightfully sweet story that really pulls at the heartstrings! This is the book I needed when I was in high school, but it is still a book that resonates as an adult. Zayneb's transformation, as well as Adam's, are powerful and cathartic reminding the readers of all that we do to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable and that the path to empowerment relies on confronting these vulnerabilities.
PF : I liked the fact that even though I was in Africa when 9/11 happened, my struggles as a Muslim were reflected in the book as well. One of my high school teacher REGULARLY singled out the few Muslims girls in the class when it was (political) History class from time to time. For him, it was fun and normal to crack jokes at us and label us "Bin Laden followers." I always sulked when that happened, and we (the 3 girls) were powerless to speak back to the "authority figure of the class" during my high school era.
SH : Reading this book personally allowed me to heal my buried experience of Islamophobia during my freshman year in college. I still remember my Creative Literature professor criticizing Islam in front of the whole lecture hall, and ignoring me when I went up to ask a question. I always regret not speaking up and defending my religion, even though the words were on the tip of my tongue. Reading how Zayneb seeks justice against her racist teacher makes me feel validated, as though I had actually stood up for myself back then. (From her review available here.)
MJ : I liked Love from A to Z so much about that it's hard to pinpoint one thing. I'm going to have to settle for Auntie Nandy's advice to Zayneb about taking care of herself and recharging. It's literally a piece of advice that resonated with me so deeply, something that I had to learn for myself too.
PF : I agree, self-care is a must.
SM : Similar to S.K. Ali's first book, Saints and Misfits, the story's real, the issues the characters face are REAL, and not shying away from that or being edited out of the story is exactly what's needed in Muslim YA right now.
2. What gave you pause?
NS : Nothing.
PF : Zayneb at first came off to me as a zealous savior of Muslims and minorities but as I read, I came to the conclusion that she was defending these groups and exposing hypocrisy, the pain and loss she can't reconcile instead. And that's understandable.
MJ : In Love from A to Z, Auntie Nandy comforts Zayneb and tells her, "If everyone listened to their parents who feared the consequences of fighting for justice, this world would be a more awful place than it is now." I had to stop reading there for a second simply because I recall so many instances where I wanted to say or do something in regards of some wrongdoings and my loved ones would tell me that I couldn't or shouldn't because they worried for my safety. It was always something that made me angry but reading my experience from someone else, even a fictional character gave me a jolt.
SM : Part of Aunt Nandy's advice on self care; because having to be on the offence is tiring, it's important to have the space, and skills to take care of you.
3. What didn't you like?
NS : There is nothing I disliked about the novel. I absolutely adored it and found it to be such a pleasant read!
PF : I wouldn't say I disliked things in Ali's book. I was simply guarded whenever a song was mentioned. Several years ago, I wouldn't have minded but these days, I just rush over parts of any book that mention lyrics in general. In other words, these tidbits don't hold my interest.
MJ : The part where Adam and Zayneb are in the museum in Doha and Zayneb tells Adam about how Islamophobic her teacher is. He acts like she's exaggerating or reading too much into things. I like that this part was included but I disliked reading it, only because it was kind of triggering. Muslim men who aren't visibly Muslim in their dress usually don't experience the prejudice and hardships that Muslim women who wear their religion do. I've dealt many times with men who'll pretend that a Muslim woman's anger in regards to situations like the one Zayneb was dealing is because we're overreacting. So while it was a needed passage, and I'm glad it was addressed, it made me angry having experienced similar situations.
SM : Tying up Ayaan's and Zayneb reconciliation, and what happened after to Ayaan, is a lil extra thing I'd have liked.
4. What are your other thoughts?
NS : What I most LOVED about Love from A to Z was the ability to read this along with my 15-year-old daughter and discuss matters such as Islamophobia, life in Qatar, responses to conflict, and so much more through the stories in the novel. I appreciated the aspects of family and respect for adults that are not always present in YA. The romance is sweet, young, and tastefully done. The more difficult topics are written with care and consideration.
PF : It was nice to get a tidbit of Saints & Misfits with Janna and Sausun whom I dubbed "BAMF Niqabi."
MJ : Zayneb's family members made me angry with how they wouldn't let her be herself and rightfully angry. I feel like her parents were a bit neglectful in protecting her.
5. Was the story original?
NS : This story was original in its representation of diverse Muslim characters and with respect to the nuances within the Muslim community.
PF : Though part of the plot is based on a real event in a Canadian school, I believe the overall story is original. The ethnic background of the characters is something I haven't come across in the books I have read so far in YA. Adam has a Chinese parent and a parent who hailed from Finland. Zayneb is part Caribbean (Guyanese) and Pakistani.
PF : Our book club member Saffiyya — Senior Community Editor at The Tempest is from Trinidad & Tobago actually. Saffiyya did you feel represented (at least slightly) in this Muslim YA story?
SM : Yes, I did! I've never read some Muslim YA with Caribbean esp. Trinidadian Muslim. Cause that's just like me.
PF : Above all, this story reflects the struggles and realities of many Muslim young adults in the face of love, raging hormones, and Islamophobia.
MJ : Yes, I feel like this story was original. I honestly loved it. They weren't the same old YA fictions that I was used to seeing.
PF : There are some urban and Muslim fiction books out there which also share glimpses of Muslim YA Love. They include some books by Umm Zakiyah, The Size of the Mustard Seed, She Wore Red Trainers, The Sandhills of Arabia and the drama Love in Ramadan. In The Size of the Mustard Seed, Khadija, the main character, has a young brother called Adam too who faces love first-handed in a Muslim setting at the community mosque. There is some drama surrounding the love affair because the girl involved had a Muslim boyfriend that Adam knows before she converted to Islam and decided to go halal with her next relationship. Anyway, in the suggested She Wore Red Trainers, the main characters are your typical Muslim teens in a UK setting. Check them out if you can.
SM : So this answer ties into no. 4 as well. This (Love from A to Z) being the first book I've read with a South Asian female lead dealing with so many different aspects of Islamophobia, tying it to politics as well, adds to the realness of the story. The romance story is mushy and delicious.
6. Do you think the story is truly a romance story? Or is it more a self-actualization story with elements of romance?
NS: I think it is more self-actualization, but the romantic elements are lovely and tasteful for YA. However, I am not an avid reader of YA romance so I have nothing to compare the romance to. I do not think I would have enjoyed this novel if the romantic elements were too heavy because the characters are young. This is why I appreciated the ending so much. (Read more about Nevien here.)
PF : For me, it was definitely a self-actualization story with some elements of romance which were appropriate and safe for younger audiences.
MJ : While Love from A to Z does deals with way more than romance, I would still categorize it as romance. Simply because through whatever else is going on, Adam and Zayneb's attraction to each other is still base for the story.
(Read her review of Ali's book here.)
SM : I definitely think it's the latter; from the onset of the story Zayneb is trying to figure it all out, dealing with her teacher and her loss of her Daadi, and the romance is one of those things that helps her work through it, so yes 10 points to Adam :).
PF : That's why I like book clubs; answers are varied, and they are often polarized. Alhamdullilah ala kulli haal.
7. If you could talk to the author right now, what questions would you ask or what would you say?
NS : There is so much to love about this novel and writer. Needless to say, I am a fan.
(Nevien met the author at her book signing in Chicago.)
MJ : What are some instances of real Islamophobia that happened to you that you included in your story?
PF : I have already asked her at the beginning alhamdullilah.
SM : A very light question and spoiler alert for those who haven't read yet... but was Zayneb's dress blue?
PF : Masha'Allah, great discussion all around! And that's a wrap! Insha'Allah, we will hear back from the author on the members' questions soon. Thank you everyone for your honest answers! Allahumma barik!
Dear readers, have you read some of the books on our roster? If so...
1. What did you like most?
2. What gave you pause?
3. What didn't you like?
4. What are your other thoughts?
5. What question (s) do you have for the author?
We look forward to hearing from you.
G E T I N T O U C H AND CLAIM THE MUG AND THE BOOKMARK BELOW!
DHUL-HIJJAH 1440/ AUGUST 2019's BOOK CLUB PICKS ARE :
The City of Brass and The Candle and the Flame !!! Whoop Whoop!
Which team will you be? Team AliZayd? Team Dara? Team Zulfiqar? Team Bilal?
Or will you be a part-house like Zayneb or a no-team like Adam Chen?
Books, Teas & Coffees
Until next time, subhanaka Allahumma wa-bihamdika ash-hadu anla ilaha illa anta as-taghfiruka wa atoobu ilayka. Aaamen.
The Fofky's Book Club