All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
Allie has a secret. Well, not so much a secret but something she doesn’t share: she’s a Muslim. But she doesn’t practice her religion, and as a Circassian-American passing as white, she can hide her religious background. Her parents aren’t religious either, and yet Allie feels like there’s something missing in her life. She wants to get in touch with her culture, but doesn’t want to upset her parents—and she doesn’t know how to tell her all-American boyfriend, Wells.
I LOVED this book.
Allie is 100% relatable as a teenager living in the diaspora of Circassians in America. While she passes as white, she’s still Muslim and still has family members who look like the “stereotypical” Muslim—and she still hears much of the racism and Islamophobia because she’s “one of the whites.” And to stay safe, avoid controversy, keep her head down and fit in, she’s kept her mouth shut.
Until she starts to feel the urge to feel something more, and to get in touch with her faith and her identity as a Muslim woman.
Her struggle to adapt and stay true to herself and her faith—and reconnecting with her culture—was so relatable. Her parents were neither religious nor particularly involved in keeping their culture alive, and while her father spoke fluent Circassian and Arabic, he’d never taught it to Allie, who as the lone blonde-haired child in her family already stuck out like a sore thumb. Just the thought that Circassian was a dying language was so disheartening, and I hope that Allie reconnects to that aspect of her heritage as well, in addition to Arabic. Of course Allie is fictional, but this is very much an #ownvoices book so I can hope the author did the same.
In addition to Allie reconnecting with her roots, there is a lot of discussion about what it means to be American, especially since Wells’ dad is…an alt-right talk show host. Um, big shocker there and kinda an easy way to introduce tension in an otherwise smooth-sailing book (lol jk, there’s a lot of micro-aggressions, racism, well-intentioned Islamophobia and death of a loved one and the feeling of not belonging anywhere. However, I did like that the “real American” and “good old days” was directly addressed for the racist hogwash that it was—and that if you live in America and call it your home, you are an American.
And the characters really made this book something special, in addition to the commentary of what being a Muslim means (and that “good” is subjective and that you can be Muslim but not practice and Muslim and practice however the hell you want in keeping with your own faith).
While I really disliked Emilia, Mikey and the other white kids Allie initially befriended, I was lukewarm towards Wells (although he does get points for forsaking his dad—kinda, but feelings towards parents are complicated—and also wearing a This is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt). I mean, he tries to learn and be supportive, and ultimately he is, but honestly I just didn’t see the spark between the two of them. They had little chemistry and a whole lot going on that I just don’t know. Very much a high school romance–which is great, because this is high school!
Of course, there might have been more personality shown in the text-messages, but for some reason the eARC I had didn’t have the text messages included (damn you wonky formatting!). So I feel like I missed a big chunk of the conversations that were had.
The Muslim Student Association girls were all fantastic, and a great introduction to the variety of people who are Muslim, and the differing kinds of discrimination they face on a daily basis—not just for being Muslim, but for possibly being black or brown, a woman, choosing to wear hijab, being gay, not being Muslim enough, etc., etc. Intersectionality, y’all.
But Allie’s family was the absolute best. I definitely cried at the end, and I loved her parents so, so much, and the loving but limited relationship she had with her teta. You could tell Allie and teta loved each other so much, but the language barrier made it incredibly hard for them to express how they really felt and talk to each other.
Anywho, on to Allie’s parents, who were the best. Allie’s mom was the definite best, although her dad was equally incredible. Mostly I think this is because they were 100% definitely Gen Xers (despite her dad’s love of the Beatles, which is kinda…boomerly??) instead of authorly parental inserts, and felt like real people. Their relationship and arguments (the camera scene! OMG) were hilarious and real, and I loved every interaction Allie had with her mom, and felt the strain with her dad.
On the short list of Allie’s mom’s great parental guidance:
That’s the kind of thing my mom used to say when she’d catch me swooning over a hot guy and would take my half-baked attraction as an opportunity to launch into yet another one of her patented I Know You’re Eventually Going to Have Sex, So Please Be Safe talks. (Way more awkward than the Drugs Ruins Lives, So Please Don’t Do Them, Except Maybe for Occasionally Cannabis, but Just as a Casual Experiment and Never While Driving in a Car, Okay? talks.)
To wrap up: definitely a must-read if you’re looking for a book on the Muslim experience as told from a teen connecting with her culture and faith for the first time while struggling to co-exist in an Islamophobic America, and also if you want a great read about a kid trying to figure it all out and be at peace with herself and who she is without allowing other people to define her.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.