Rummanah Aasi
Description: Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
  But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective. Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

Review: Like many first generation of American immigrant teens Rukhsana is straddling two cultures-her Bengali culture and her American culture. The push and pull of pleasing her conservative parents and following her individual desires of pursuing college of Caltech and no longer hiding her girlfriend, Ariana is exhausting and hard. Rukhsana is a relatable character and who is a glimmer of a reflection rather than a clear mirror. This is mainly due to the debut author pitfalls in this book. We are told about Rukhsana's struggles with her Bengali culture, in particular with making her girlfriend and her friends understand why is it not easy for her to come out to her parents. Similarly, we are told how Rukhsana's family would be ostracized by their community if Rukhsana came out. I wished both of these important topics were fleshed out because they serve as the driving source for the novel. I also wanted to explore more of the Bengali culture besides the overdone gender double standards as well as the girl marries as soon as she is college bound cliche.
   The plot also meanders. The first three quarters of the book follow Rukhsana hiding her sexuality until she is caught making out with her girlfriend at home. Soon she is whisked away to Bangladesh under false pretenses to get married to a boy and attempts at exorcism of a jinn who is responsible for her homosexuality. In the last quarter we get backstories of Rukhsana's maternal grandmother who endured a child marriage, rape and physical abuse from her husband while being helpless in watching her daughter (Rukhsana's mother) be sexually abused. This attempt to ground the story and perhaps give context to the conservative upbringing are clunky because readers are not given a sufficient, balanced overview of the culture as a whole. What really left a bad impression on me is how an LGBTQ+ character's death served as a plot device and allowed Rukhsana's parents to do a complete three hundred and sixty degrees in accepting their daughter's love and life choice. Again there is an attempt to tell readers the dangers of being LGBTQ+ individual in Bangladesh rather than showing it.
  While I am beyond thrilled that more Muslim voices are being written and some even feature LGBTQ+ characters, I am still looking for a great title to support. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali fails to fully explore the entire intersectionality of its main character. It might be great to have now, but we definitely need better.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of homophobic and Islamophobic comments, language, and underage drinking, rape, and sexual abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up

If you like this book try: Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi
2 Responses
  1. It seems to me that so many YA titles try to conquer every hot topic in one book. It turns me off.

  2. This book sounds like it just doesn't know what it wants to be. Too bad because it seems like it covered some really good issues.

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