Rummanah Aasi

Description: Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
   For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.
  But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.

Review: In Collin's adult fantasy debut novel, The Binding, books are dangerous things in an  alternate Victorian England. People visit to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean for the individual and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them. After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of Seredith, a binder, to live and work as her apprentice.
  As you can imagine there are those who exploit the binders market to their own purposes. Among them is Mr. de Havilland, Seredith’s son, who, after her suspicious death, appropriates her stock of secret bindings, which, like loaded guns, will make explosive appearances later. He also takes charge of Emmett.
  The middle section of the novel changes from a third person to Emmett's point of view as Emmett eventually discovers there is a book with his name on it, and it holds an essential secret about him. Emmett is back on the farm with his parents and his sister, Alta. In this flashback we learn the source of Emmett’s ailment and also his connection to the Lord Lucian Darnay as the two have a forbidden romance. Except for the fact that a corrupt binder’s wares play a role, the concluding section, told from Lucian’s point of view, presents a mostly fact-based dystopia of Victorian aristocracy and its excesses. The romance is slow burn and sweet, but it is tragically cut short.
 While I would have loved to explore this alternative Victorian a bit more, I did like Emmett and Lucian as characters. There were a few plot threads that are fully discussed such as Lucian's vial and predatory father and the backstory of Mr. de Havilland. The worldview of this novel is bleak, but the ending is hopeful. This a unique blend of historical fiction, dystopian, mystery, and romance. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and allusions to rape. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Review: I was not a fan of Samira Ahmed's debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, which I read for last year's Ramadan Reading Challenge, but after seeing the many starred reviews for her sophomore novel I decided to give it a chance and lowered my expectations. Internment has a powerful and horrifyingly very possible premise in which in the near fifteen minutes of the future Muslim Americans have been registered and detained in internment camps because they have been labeled as a threat to the United State's security. They are sent to internment camps where their constitutional rights have been stripped and they are forced to comply.
  I had a very hard time getting into the novel as the themes of inequality, privilege, and activism among many others are very heavy handed. I had to remind myself that this novel is not written for readers who are well informed with our current politics, but those who are completely oblivious to it. With this in mind I was able to overcome my first hurdle.
   My second hurdle for this book is the weak execution of the novel that had so much potential to be better. There is  a lot of telling instead of showing in this novel. Ahmed misses the opportunity to explore several key items that could have brought the book to life such as the actual politics from both the policy makers and those protesting against the Muslim ban, tying the internment camps to the actual camps during World War II to emphasize that history is actually repeating itself, exploring the intersectionality of the Muslim community which she attempts to do but barely skims the surface, and finally, but most importantly creating an activism movement that slowly builds and brings the Muslim community together rather than having a couple of reactive teens do things haphazardly.
  I also wanted to dig in deeper to the characters. Layla is a sarcastic teen who doesn't know when to shut up and when to have an interior monologue. She constantly puts her family in danger because she throws a temper tantrum that she can't speak to her boyfriend David, which sets the novel in motion. I understand her rage and her desire to do something, but she is dangerously impulsive and naive to the point of stupidity to think that her actions do not have consequences. She does grow and show bravery towards the last half of the book, however, other characters especially the guards who oppose their commands are not explored. The teen led activism could have been stronger and inspirational like the #Neveragain movement, but it was handled sloppily. The Director is also a cartoonish villain and one dimensional. Despite my issues with this book, I do think Internment is an important read because of its premise, but I wish it read like a novel rather than an author's soapbox. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and scenes of strong physical abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Huda meets Hadi, the boy she will ultimately marry, she is six years old. Both are the American-born children of Iraqi immigrants, who grew up on opposite ends of California.

Hadi considers Huda his childhood sweetheart, the first and only girl he's ever loved, but Huda needs proof that she is more than just the girl Hadi's mother has chosen for her son. She wants what the American girls have--the entertainment culture's almost singular tale of chance meetings, defying the odds, and falling in love. She wants stolen kisses, romantic dates, and a surprise proposal. As long as she has a grand love story, Huda believes no one will question if her marriage has been arranged.

But when Huda and Hadi's conservative Muslim families forbid them to go out alone before their wedding, Huda must navigate her way through the despair of unmet expectations and dashed happily-ever-after ideals. Eventually she comes to understand the toll of straddling two cultures in a marriage and the importance of reconciling what you dreamed of with the life you eventually live.

Review: First Come Marriage is a heartfelt, engaging story about culture expectations clashing with reality. Huda Al-Marashi is a Shia Iraqi American who grew up in America and with the the romantic, impractical, Americanized belief that rings and proposals and wedding-day highs laid the foundation for a loving marriage, which she encountered time after time in television and movies. These romantic notions often collided with her conservative Islamic family values. Before marriage, Al-Marashi believed that a traditional, family-sanctioned union to a boy from her same background would lay the foundation for a happy life. Her lived experience, however, requires Al-Marashi to unlearn both of sets of beliefs.She often felt that her marriage to Hadi, a childhood friend and fellow Iraqi American, did not live up to her high expectations. Hadi's lack of romantic gestures before and after her marriage was often a source of contention in their relationship. For years, she struggles to explain her marriage angst to her husband and wants him to figure it out on his own. This resentment grows to a boiling point when Hadi is accepted to medical school in Mexico, forcing Al-Marashi to move to Mexico; suspend her own graduate work; and struggle to fill large blocks of empty, lonely time. The pair is constantly fighting until the brink of divorce. By self reflection and exposing a long list of what she got wrong, including her own beliefs and the idea that her husband is an extension of herself rather than his own person, Al-Marashi finally gets to what’s right.
  I found this memoir to be an easy read. The author's high school and college experiences were highly relatable. There were many moments where I understood her frustration, having too grown-up with the rituals of attending prom (which I never did nor did I resent not attending) and wondering about a happily ever after that everyone seems to get in books, television, and movies. I wished there was a bit more insight towards the last half of the book. Regardless, I enjoyed it and read it in one sitting.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are brief mentions of sex and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review: Front Desk is a wonderful debut middle grade novel that explores a multitude of themes that are nicely woven into a story of activism. Mia Tang and her family has immigrated from China two years ago in dreams of starting over. After being fired from their restaurant jobs, Mia and her family are struggling to make ends meet and needing to live in their car, they are beyond thrilled to become motel managers for the Calivista MotelTheir dream job, however, is a nightmare after a series of setbacks for the Tang family. The washing machine breaks down. A customer’s car is stolen. Mia’s mother is beaten by robbers. Mr. Yao, the miserly and racist, motel manager mistreats the Tang family and cuts their wages at every turn. Meanwhile Mia is learning the unfair treatment and plight of immigrants as well as the gradual understanding of racism and prejudice in America. Mia is also fighting a personal battle among her peers who ridicule her for wearing thrift-shop clothes and her desire to be a writer when her mother insists she must study math because she can never compete with the natural English born students.
  I absolutely adored Mia. She is spunky and creative when it comes to solving her family's issues. She turns to activism to call out racist behavior and finds a way to help out poor immigrants find shelter. I was constantly rooting for her even when the competition of writing an essay to win a motel seemed like a very shady deal. I just wished we learned a little bit more from the people who stayed at the motel. This is a great book that demonstrates what persistence, creativity, and activism can do to change what seems like insurmountable situations.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are racist and anti-immigrant sentiments addressed in the book without any slurs. There is talk of a physical assault. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Review: The Raven's Tale is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe's teen years.  Edgar “Eddy” Poe is desperate to escape the suffocating life of upper-crust Richmond, Virginia. He is looking forward to going to college and being free to follow his passion for poetry as well as getting away from his controlling foster father. The passionate and talented Edgar is close to achieving his goal when she appears. A girl in a dress of ashes and raven feathers, she is Eddy’s muse, whom he names Lenore. Lenore is fierce, powerful, and hungry for words, but she needs Eddy to commit to her so she can evolve from her new frail human form into a higher being. Poe has to decide whether or not he can continue his artistic expression or live his life without it.
   The story is narrated by Poe and his personified muse in alternating chapters. Edgar and Lenore share the present-tense narration in distinctive first-person voices. Several of Poe’s most well-known works are given the nod in the narrative, however, I found the alternating chapters at first engaging, but I soon found it tedious and repetitive. There is not much character growth for Poe as he whines and complains about his financial woes. I also found the discussion surrounding the family slaves to be troubling and problematic. I normally really like Cat Winter's infusion of supernatural into her stories, but The Raven's Tale was unfortunately a complete miss for me.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Blood red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Review: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is an uplifting story about three teens with serious disabilities forming an unlikely friendship as they struggle to cope with everyday life.  message of empathy especially from abled bodies. Aven Green is a tween that tween me would love to have as a friend. She is smart, funny, loves planning pranks, and plays on the school soccer team.  Though Aven was born without arms, she has never let her "lack of armage," as she calls it, deter her from doing anything she sets her mind to. She does not need your pity, but would really appreciate it if you would not stare and call her a freak. When her father gets a job as the manager of Stagecoach Pass, a rundown Western theme park out in Arizona, the family's move, right after Aven has started eighth grade, presents her toughest challenge yet.
  Along with dealing with the new kid jitters, Aven has to everything from scratch including dealing with the many stares and questions of new schoolmates. Aven sorely misses her old life back in Kansas;  however, her optimistic spirit and her infectious sense of humor, keeps her afloat. She is not immune to the constant spotlight of being disabled or labeled weird. She is persistent and looks for the silver linings in her new life in Arizona, such as making friends with the cute but prickly Connor (who has Tourette's syndrome) and Zion who lacks self confidence because of his weight, or enjoying the ability to wear flats all year-round. Aven, Connor, and Zion get wrapped up in the unusual mystery at the heart of Stagecoach Pass: the disappearing tarantulas, a missing photograph, and a secret necklace. Aven is determined to get to the bottom of the secret.
  The characters make this story. As an able bodied person, it is an eye opening read and a reminder of the stigma that is attached to disability. Aven, Connor, and Zion alienate themselves because they've been labeled by others as freaks, but as these characters grow more confident they push back at these expectations. The journey to this point is hard, heartbreaking, and not easy. The author seems to have done her homework in portraying the characters authentically. The mystery in the story, however, is underwhelming and takes a backseat to the character development and relationships. I am happy there will be another book featuring Aven and the crew and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of bullying. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It is summer in Phoenix, and seventeen-year-old Maximo offers to help a Jordan, a fellow student in high school, with the food truck that belonged to Jordan's deceased father, and which may be the only thing standing between homelessness for Jordan and his mom; the boys are strongly attracted to each other, but as their romance develops it is threatened by the secrets they are hiding--and by the racism and homophobia of those around them.

Review: Maximo (who prefers to be called Max) is a popular high school athlete who spends most of his free time with his two best friends, playing video games and joking around. Max has a secret that he hasn't told anyone, not even his buddies, that makes his heart pound and his hands sweat. He is trying to be a man, a fighter his father raised him to be. A fighter pushes through the fear and pain.
    Jordan is an awkward, anxious, introverted teen who is attempting to help take care of his mom after the death of his father. He also dreams of striking out on his own, pursue a career in writing and be in a relationship. In order to save their home Jordan and his mom work on their food truck, but thing are not going according to plan. In fact neither Jordan nor his mom know how to run a food truck. Jordan hires Max to work the food truck with him, and two boys who thought they had nothing in common find that they are more alike than they thought.
   The Music of What Happens is a character driven story with an easy, conversational tone. The story is told from alternating points of views of Max and Jordan. Max is confident though he is afraid to show and talk about his feelings because that is not what a fighter does. Max grapples with understanding whether he has actually been raped and what he should do about it; the consequences of the rape also cause him to question the lessons his father taught him as a young child. While the author makes clear what happened to Max, the assault is not described in graphic detail. This topic of consent and rape are rarely mentioned between boys (or at least from the YA books that I have read thus far). Max also laughs off crude sexual jokes regarding promiscuity and homophobic slurs until he himself becomes woke and comfortable enough to have an honest talk with his friends. Jordan is struggling with self confidence and keeping his mother afloat. Oftentimes he ends up being the adult and she the child.
  We follow these boys as they uneasily become friends and into a budding romance along with getting to know their separate groups of friends. The plot is balanced nicely between heavier topics such as toxic masculinity, homophobia, racial microaggressions, consent, addiction, and sexual assault. None of these topics are heavy handed but they are also not sugar coated either. There are some truly heartbreaking moments that Max and Jordan go through, but ultimately it is an uplifting and relatable story.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mentions of underage drinking, allusions to rape, crude sexual humor, and homophobic slurs. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Release by Patrick Ness
Rummanah Aasi

Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan officially begins today. I am very excited to participate in the #RamadanReadathon hosted by Nadia at Headscarves and Hardbacks. The purpose of this readathon is to celebrate and support Muslim authors during the holy month of Ramadan. The readathon this year will be taking place between May 6th and June 4th!

The main focus this year is a bingo board that is themed around the five pillars of Islam. Each pillar has four different prompts and one free space to complete! To participate in this reading challenge, you must choose one or more of the pillars to complete and, beginning at the bottom, work your way up the board. I am going to aim for the Faith and Prayer Pillars. Below is my tbr pile for the readathon:

Multiple Point of Views: 

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn't want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

Recommended to You:

 Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Historical Fiction:

 Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret--he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.


Doaa and her family leave war-torn Syria for Egypt where the climate is becoming politically unstable and increasingly dangerous. She meets and falls in love with Bassem, a former Free Syrian Army fighter and together they decide to leave behind the hardship and harassment they face in Egypt to flee for Europe, joining the ranks of the thousands of refugees who make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded and run-down ships to seek asylum overseas and begin a new life.

After four days at sea, their boat is sunk by another boat filled with angry men shouting threats and insults. With no land in sight and surrounded by bloated, floating corpses, Doaa is adrift with a child’s inflatable water ring around her waist, while two little girls cling to her neck. Doaa must stay alive for them. She must not lose strength. She must not lose hope.

Free Space:

Kamala Khan continues to mix super-heroic adventure with fun and friendship! Starting with... a slumber party! But if calamity strikes Jersey City while Kamala is having a sleepover with Nakia, Zoe and Mike, how can Ms. Marvel save the day without bailing on her best friends?

And speaking of BFFs, Bruno is back — and he and Kamala are learning how to be pals again. What better bonding experience than geeking out over a little science? And what better experiment to run than trying to figure out how Ms. Marvel's powers work?

But when things go awry and with her uncanny abilities on the fritz, Kamala will have to pull it together to battle a classic Marvel villain!

The next big step for Kamala Khan begins here!


 Number/Name in the Title:

Every explorer needs a map! Baba encourages Yasmin to make one of her own. But when Yasmin loses sight of Mama at the farmer's market, can her map bring them back together?

 Recently Bought/Released:

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Contemporary Fiction:

 From William C. Morris Award Finalist Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is part "The Sun Is Also a Star" mixed with "Anna and the French Kiss, " following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.

Free Space: 

 A music-loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Part of a Series:  

 Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.
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