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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Read and Resist: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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!

hateugive_10-10snapI did not know much about The Hate U Give when it was released, but I remember having two immediate reactions. First, I thought, Everyone seems to love it. I must read it. Then I asked myself why the author used ‘U’ instead of the word ‘you.’ Like the grammar snob I am, I was annoyed at the title…but not annoyed enough to refuse to read it. It was, after all, a book. Hermione and Belle can never resist a new book, and neither can I.

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Please take a moment to appreciate the fact I used this GIF because Emma Watson plays Hermione and Belle.

Fortunately, my co-worker and fellow book lover loaned me her copy of The Hate U Give.  She had told me that the book was about racism, but I had no idea how absolutely relevant and poignant the plot would be–especially in our current political climate. As soon as I read the description, I was heartbroken:

 “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

The plot is clearly inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and so I thought I would be reading a book about things I already knew. I told myself that I was white, but I wasn’t like those white people.

How wrong I was.

My thinking still reeked of white privilege–and I’m so glad that The Hate U Give was there to knock it down.

 

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Khalil is shot within the first few chapters of the book. He is driving, and Starr is in the front seat. When a cop pulls them over, Khalil is obviously agitated. He talks back to the officer a few times; still, he does not exhibit any threatening behaviors. He is unarmed.  It’s obvious the cop is wrong, and still, I found myself wondering if there is anything that Khalil could have done differently. But like so many his real-life counterparts, Khalil was innocent of any crime.

Khalil did not deserve to die. Period. 

Starr’s life is seemingly full of contradictions. As one of the few black students at her school, Starr has a lot of white friends; her boyfriend is also white, and they are often blissfully unaware of what Starr endures on a regular basis. As she explains: “It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.” While she often finds herself unable to express her pain–especially after Khalil’s death–it’s clear that her enemy is not white people. Her enemy is racism and white supremacy, and these are evils that creep into all of our lives. These evils should be my enemy, too.

Similarly, Starr’s uncle is a police officer. Uncle Carlos is like Starr’s second father, and again, the book is made clear that you can hate a system without hating its people. More specifically, you can support Black Lives Matter and police officers. In an interview, author Angie Thomas explains:

“A lot of people are quick to say that saying “black lives matter” makes you anti-cop. All lives should indeed matter but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives do not matter enough. This not an anti-cop book. I intentionally made Starr’s uncle a cop because I have law enforcement in my family and I understand the struggle that black cops deal with particularly. One [relative] told me, “Well, in the uniform, I’m a sellout to some of my own people, but outside of the uniform, I’m seen as a suspect.” That’s a constant struggle for some of them and I wanted to show someone in law enforcement who holds other officers accountable. At one point in the book, Carlos [Starr’s uncle] says, ‘You shouldn’t be a cop if your first instinct is to shoot someone.’ I think the more we see more officers holding each other accountable, the more we will see people trust cops in this country.”

And the ‘U’ in the title? There is a reason for that, too. Khalil and Starr are listening to 2Pac songs when Khalil explains how truly revolutionary the artist was:

“Man, get outta here! Tupac was the truth.”
“Yeah, twenty years ago.”
“Nah, even now. Like, check this.” He points at me, which means he’s about to go into one of his Khalil philosophical moments. “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen! The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
“Damn. Yeah.”

As the story develops,  the meaning of ‘THUG LIFE” becomes even more important. So, yeah. I can stop being such an asshole about grammar.

The Hate U Give is a difficult and honest book; yet, I found myself reading for hours at a time. Starr feels more like a friend than a narrator, and the book is unexpectedly hilarious at times (the constant High School Musical and Harry Potter references had me especially giddy). While The Hate U Give  was written for the young adult market, its message is not limited to teens. It is for all of us.

House-Elves and Children’s Tales

If we haven’t met–or, more than likely, if this is your first time visiting–there is something you should know: I love to read. I can never quite answer the question, “What do you like to read?”, because I’ll read anything. As writers, that’s a piece of advice we constantly give one another: read everything. It’s also good advice for the insatiably curious; for many of us, it’s hard to find something that isn’t interesting. The French Revolution? Yes. Heart-wrenching love stories? Sure. Dragons? Of course. Why are you even asking that question?

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At this point, my to-read list is miles long, and it’s grown substantially since I started working in a bookstore. Despite this, I find myself wanting to re-read the books from my childhood.

I want to revisit the books that kept me company on the school bus. I want to meet my favorite characters, as if I were reading about them for the first time. I want that magic, that spark that made the world feel smaller and so much bigger at the same time.

“Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”

-George R.R Martin, A Storm of Swords

But it doesn’t stop with children’s books: I’ve also had the urge to read more young adult literature. YA has always held a big piece of my bookworm heart, and I’m quite sure that will never change.

But why am I so drawn to children’s books? Why young adult, when I am already past my teenage years?

There are countless reasons, many of which have to do with my interests as a writer or how reading fiction can make us more empathetic. I could write for hours on those reasons alone, but today I want to take a different angle and focus on adults who read–and enjoy–books for younger readers (teen fiction or otherwise).

Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and literally anyone who is older than the typical middle-grade to high-school age group are often looked down on for reading children’s books. The author of this article claims that adults should be embarrassed of that fact, and that we’re missing something if we disregard other forms of literature for YA.

Of course we’re missing something if we only read YA, just like we are missing something if we are only listening to one genre of music or watching one television show. If we are missing something when we read books for children, then the reverse must be true: we are missing something if we don’t.

I have read many YA novels and rolled my eyes at allegedly romantic lines or the cliche protaganist. But I’ve done the same for ‘adult literature,’ too. Bad writing is just that: bad writing, and it can exist in all genres for all age groups. Ever heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey?

I was eight years old when I read the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the very first time. And I’ve re-read it–and the rest of the series–about a dozen times since. The story doesn’t change. However, my perspective changes, and that makes every reading experience different. The Hogwarts I knew growing up is not the same Hogwarts I know now. I grew up. I look at my world, and Harry’s, from another lens.

The very fact that I have grown up is exactly why reading children’s books is still beneficial. I haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia since I was in elementary school. At that age, I had no idea that Aslan was an allegory for Jesus. I just thought he was a really cool lion. With that knowledge, what could I learn from Narnia that I couldn’t before? Maybe nothing. Maybe something incredible.

The same is true for countless other novels. As an adult, teen fiction like The Princess Diaries and Eleanor and Park challenged my ideas about romance; classics like Peter Pan felt more meaningful as an adult because I understood the bittersweetness of Neverland.

There is wisdom hidden in these so-called simple tales, and to ignore them completely, or else assume that the older readers of YA are immature or unintelligent is a very narrow point of view.

“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Like I mentioned earlier, this is just one of many arguments for children’s/YA lit. But perhaps the simplest reason–and the reason that no one should ever need to defend–is that people love these books. They may be overly satisfying stories, nostalgic indulgences that we can devour like candy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, all good stories should feel like eating candy. Who wants to read a book that is easy to put down?

My Nana once told me that she learns something from every book she reads. So read whatever allows you to think and grow. Read what you love. For some of us, that includes fairy tales.