Read and Resist: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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Warning: this review contains spoilers. 

Young adult fiction has always been my favorite. Not only does the genre speak to teens who often feel desperately alone and misunderstood, but YA inspires and empowers readers in a way that we rarely see. As a woman in my twenties, I immediately think of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games when it comes to YA literature about resistance–but it doesn’t look like this trend is stopping anytime soon. This is the third young adult novel in my Read and Resist series, all of which have been published within the past year. I’m open to other genres, of course–it’s just that YA has been on point lately.

My most recent YA read is Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. The book’s summary cited two writers I love, and introduced classic YA romance and resistance:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

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.

Love, Hate & Other Filters is told from Maya’s perspective, and I immediately fell in love with her. She is intelligent and creative; yet, the author does not make her into a heroine who claims she “isn’t like other girls.” She is unapologetically her teenage girl self–full of dreams and pining after a popular boy and texting with emojis–and it is so refreshing to read. We need to remember that there is no shame in acting like a teenage girl when you are, in fact, a teenage girl.

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Maya also feels torn between following her dream or pleasing her parents. She wants to attend college in New York to study film, but her parents want her to stay in Chicago and eventually marry a nice Muslim Indian boy. While Maya isn’t particularly devout, her parents are, and she often finds herself playing two different roles–especially as she starts gets closer to her crush, Phil, who is not Indian or Muslim.

However, these conflicts are merely backdrops to the book’s poignant commentary on terrorism and Islamophobia. After her city experiences a terror attack, her instinctive reaction is to hope that that the attacker isn’t Muslim. She fears another Muslim ban, and she recalls her parents’s stories of 9/11. Her thoughts are honest, and made me consider how many Muslim Americans live on a daily basis.

“It’s selfish and horrible, but in this terrible moment, all I want is to be a plain old American teenager. Who can simply mourn without fear. Who doesn’t share last names with a suicide bomber. Who goes to dances and can talk to her parents about anything and can walk around without always being anxious. And who isn’t a presumed terrorist first and an American second.”

-Love, Hate & Other Filters

When it is revealed that the alleged terrorist shares the same last name as Maya’s family–Aziz–they endure sudden hatred from the place they have always called home. Maya is physically harmed on a school field trip; her parents are threatened and their dental practice is attacked, even though they are not related to the terrorist.

Later on, we learn that the terrorist is not Mr. Aziz, but a white, American man. It’s a clear message to all of us that we cannot make judgements for an entire community and religion we only pretend to know. I often hear people claim that the Qur’an includes violent passages, which proves that Islam is a violent religion. But the Bible has its fair share of disturbing passages, too, and yet the American government is determined to uphold “Christian values.” As Maya’s parents explain, “These terrorists are the antithesis of Islam. They’re not Muslim. Violence has no place in religion, and the terrorists are responsible for their own crimes, not the religion and not us.” 

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While I loved how this book confronted such a timely issue, much of Maya’s personal story felt incomplete. For instance, I understand why Maya and Phil did not end up together, but I wish that the book hadn’t jumped from their prom night to New York. Phil and Maya were absolutely adorable, and I was yearning for some sort of closure.  I felt the same way about her parents–they have an extremely painful argument about college, and I was expecting to see an equally dramatic reconciliation. In the end, I gave the book 3/5 stars.

This world desperately need voices like Samira Ahmed’s and characters like Maya–but we need to be open to receive them. May we always remember that love overcomes hate. ❤

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Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

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Note: As a member of the Launch Team, I received an advance reader copy from the publisher. 

Inspired: Slaying Giants Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

One Woman’s Journey Back to Loving the Bible

If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her—and it will change you too.

Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.

The first Bible story I ever doubted can be found in the Book of Jonah.

I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old, fiercely in love with Jesus and not yet jaded by religion. I devoured the tales in my children’s Bible as though they would disappear: from Eden to Moses to Esther, I read and was fascinated and accepted each account as truth.

And then, I turned the page. Like every other page, this one had a brightly-colored picture. But this picture made me frown. A man was swimming in the depths of the ocean, cowering from a gigantic fish.

Not a whale or a manatee, which I knew were huge aquatic mammals. A huge, scaly, fish.

This fish, I read, swallowed Jonah. The reluctant prophet stayed in the fish’s belly for three days.

Perhaps it was because I had never heard this story before, but everything about Jonah sounded like nonsense. A fish couldn’t swallow a man whole. He couldn’t live there for three days. What kind of fool did these Bible people take me for?! I wasn’t an IDIOT. I was SEVEN.

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I’ve been wrestling with the Bible ever since. I started going to church, and believed my Sunday school teachers when they said that everything in it was historically true. There was a time in my life when I doubted God and everything to do with religion, but I still wasn’t sure what to do with the Bible. Then, I fell in love with Jesus again. The Bible became real once more.

Now, I feel caught in the in-between: I think the Bible is not always literal, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I still struggle with certain stories, especially those that involve miracles or floods or plagues.

But I know I’m not alone in this. Rachel Held Evans has had similar struggles with faith, and I’m a huge fan of her work. When she announced she was writing a book about the Bible, I could hardly contain my excitement–and then jumped at the chance to join the launch team.

In many ways, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again is classic Rachel Held Evans. The book is divided by literary genre; it reminded me of her book Searching for Sunday, which is divided into chapters based on church sacraments. In each chapter of Inspired, she uses elements of memoir and draws on scholarship to explore these genres within the Bible, never abandoning the vulnerability I so admire.

“We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting at us from the page via talking snakes and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

What’s different about Inspired, though, is that Rachel explores different genres and writing styles. Some chapters open with a short story (my favorites were the stories told from Hagar’s perspective, and the story about the woman that met Jesus at the well). One opens with a poem; another, a screenplay. While these works of fiction and poetry aren’t exactly necessaryI think the chapters stand well on their own, and I can see how this structure would feel a little confusing–they’re so much fun to read. They offer you a different perspective about the stories we think we know. Even if a story wasn’t my favorite, I always felt like I was implementing Ignatian prayer or midrash (Rachel also explains midrash in more detail) into my reading.

“The good news is as epic as it gets, with universal theological implications, and yet the Bible tells it from the perspective of fishermen and farmers, pregnant ladies and squirmy kids. This story about the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity smells like mud and manger hay, and tastes like salt and wine. It is concerned, not simply with questions of eternity, but with paying taxes and filling bellies and addressing a woman’s chronic menstrual complications. It is the biggest story and the smallest story all at once—the great quest for the One Ring and the quiet friendship of Frodo and Sam.”

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

Throughout the book, there is an emphasis on the importance of story. As a writer, this idea resonated with me powerfully. Christians often say that God is a great storyteller; yet, we act as though it is heresy to imply the Bible is made of stories we struggle to believe. Rachel also points out that we will get much more out of the Bible if we accept it for what it is, instead of making it into something it isn’t. Her insights on war stories, miracle stories, and the epistles were especially comforting to me.

While I sometimes found myself wanting to read more history about the Bible, or wondering what genre her fictional retellings were leading into, I couldn’t put the book down. I often read paragraphs out loud to my husband and finished by exclaiming, “JESUS IS SO COOL! I LOVE THIS BOOK! I LOVE RACHEL HELD EVANS!” before melting in a puddle of my emotions.

Overall, I gave Inspired 4/5 stars on Goodreads. My sincerest hope and prayer is that, like Rachel, we all learn to wrestle with this ancient book. At the very least, we’ll hear a great story.

 

Pre-order Inspired here, or buy it from your favorite bookseller on June 12, 2018. 

The Paris of the South

I’m lucky enough to have more than one best friend, and I’m even luckier to count my mom among them.

I know it sounds cliché (especially on Mother’s Day) but it’s true. We do all the typical mother-daughter things: I call her when I’m angry and need to vent, and I call her just to say hello. I ask her for advice. And, of course, I always want to talk to her when I’ve had a bad day–because even though I’m technically a grown-ass woman, I still believe my mom can fix everything.

I also just love spending time with her. We’ve watched a lot of trashy television and visited a lot of wineries. And it’s always a blast.

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Go on, look at how cute we are! Please ignore the freakish reflection of my arm.

A few weeks ago, Mom and I took our first-ever trip together. We decided to visit Asheville, North Carolina–neither of us had ever been, and it was only a four-hour drive from Atlanta. We had no itinerary other than spending time with one another. And drinking wine. Obviously.

We left on a Friday morning, enjoyed a breakfast at Waffle House (“I’m in the South, after all,” Mom reasoned), and arrived in Asheville that afternoon. While our journey was relatively short, it was a beautiful drive. We made a quick stop near Tallulah Gorge, and the mountains in North Carolina were breathtaking.

Our hotel was located in Biltmore Village, so we took some time that evening to explore. There was plenty of shopping–including huge retailers like Chico’s and lululemon–but we preferred browsing places like The Olde World Christmas Shop, which has two stories full of holly jolly Christmas glee. And yes, it was just as incredible as it sounds. I was also a huge fan of Nest Botique & DIY Studio and the Village Wayside Bar & Grille.

 

 

The next day was dedicated to Biltmore Estate. Since our hotel was so close to the ticket office, we made the mistake of thinking we could walk to the actual estate…only to find out it was about three miles away, and you could only access everything by driving! So, we walked back, grabbed our car, and made the drive to the famous Vanderbilt house.

While I wish that our self-guided tour was a little less streamlined (you have to follow a line, and the path is blocked off with red rope), it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to visit. My favorite room, of course, was the library. Apparently, George Vanderbilt loved travel and books–so I think we would have had a lot to talk about. You know, except for the fact that he was super rich and lived over a hundred years ago.

Downtown Asheville was probably my favorite place to explore. There are so many wonderful shops and restaurants and breweries–you can’t go wrong!

On Sunday, we headed back downtown for the most important meal of the day: brunch. When searching for places to eat on Google Maps, we thought the Tupelo Honey Cafe sounded decent enough–and then IT BLEW OUR FREAKIN’ MINDS. We ordered coffee and mimosas, and had one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I mean, goat cheese grits?! Sweet potato pancakes?! Is this what heaven is like?!!

(I was under the impression that the Tupelo Honey Cafe was only in Asheville, but on their website, I discovered they have several locations. There is one in the suburbs of Atlanta and I AM FREAKING OUT. Mom, I know what we are doing next time you are in town.) 

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Asheville is a beautiful town, and it made the perfect mother-daughter weekend trip. I’m already looking forward to my next visit: Mom and I have already talked about returning sometime next year, and my best friend will be staying in Asheville this summer. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I love hearing from you all!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I can’t wait for our next adventure together. 

To all the mamas out there: Happy Mother’s Day. I’m so grateful for all of you, and I hope you get to celebrate in the very best of ways today. I also know this is a painful day for many–so to all the women, mothers, and children who are hurting today, you are seen and loved. You’re heroes, too. ❤️