Photo Credit: Goodreads
Today’s post is a review of Sheba Karim’s That Thing We Call a Heart. As some of you may know if you follow me on Twitter, this past month I’ve been participating in RamadanReadaThon. I found out about the readathon after it started so I didn’t have a TBR consisting of only books written by Muslim authors or featuring Muslim protagonists set up for the duration of Ramadan. But since I really wanted to participate and I was celebrating Ramadan, I set myself the challenge of reading at least three books written by Muslim authors. This is the second book that I’ve read. Ramadan Mubarak (belated! since Ramadan will have passed by the time this post goes up) to those celebrating, and let’s get into the review. Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the summary:
“Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.
Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.
With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.
Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.”
Ok, for starters, I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t connect with the characters as much as wish I had. I didn’t dislike Sheba, but I didn’t really connect with her or feel like she developed much through the span of the book. I wasn’t a fan of Jamie, the love interest, either. I think the main reason that both of them fell a bit flat for me was because I wasn’t feeling the romance between them. I didn’t feel invested in it and I felt that there wasn’t much of a connection between the two characters. I did enjoy reading about Farah though, and honestly, I wish she was the main character. I loved her background, her personality, and her friendship with Sheba. I really enjoyed Sheba and Farah’s friendship, that was definitely my favorite relationship present in the book. I wasn’t a big fan of Sheba’s parents, but I did like how Sheba and her father connected over Urdu poetry. I thought that was an extremely cool and unique way to infuse culture in the story, and I loved learning about the various ghazals.
What I did really love about That Thing We Call a Heart was the message it carried. The story promoted and portrayed the complexities of Muslim teenage girls, and how everyone has a different level of interaction with their faith. How there isn’t one way to “be” Muslim. It addressed and took down stereotypes about Islam, Islamophobia, racism, cultural stereotypes, and ignorance, and I absolutely loved that.
Overall, I’m really happy that I read this book. In case any of you are interested, I’m going to list the books that I read for the RamadanReadaThon below. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the books that I’ve pulled together.
- Does My Head Look Big In This
- features Amal, a Muslim Australian-Palestinian girl, and is written by Randa Abdel-Fattah who describes herself as, “an Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian-chocoholic.”
- That Thing We Call a Heart
- Amina’s Voice
- features Amina, a Pakistani-American girl, and is written by Hena Khan. It’s an #ownvoices book, and I’m overall super pumped to read it.
- In a Perfect World
- I’m only partially counting this book because it features a non-Muslim protagonist and I believe the author, Trish Doller, is non-Muslim as well. However, the love interest is Muslim and the novel is set in Egypt, which is a Muslim majority country. In addition, aspects of Islam and Muslim culture are discussed and are present in the book.
I’ve bookmarked a ton of pages that have wonderfully huge lists of books written by Muslim authors and/or featuring Muslim protagonists, so let me know if you want more recommendations. I’m still on the hunt for a YA contemporary that features a black Muslim and is set in America. If any of you know of a book that meets these requirements, definitely drop the title in the comments below. If not, I might just have to write it myself. =)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Until next time,
Happy writing, happy reading, and happy blogging!