Salahudin and Noor are teenagers growing up in the desert town of Juniper, California, who dream of escaping their working-class lives. Salahudin’s parents immigrated from Pakistan before he was born, purchasing a run-down motel with the hope of a fresh start. Noor immigrates from Pakistan after an earthquake kills her parents, where she and Salahudin become best friends, both labelled outsiders by their young classmates. As they grow up, their bond intensifies until unrequited love causes the friendship to dissolve, just as Salahudin’s family life, and Noor’s academic future, fall apart. A sequence of tragedies, followed by bad decisions, forces Salahudin and Noor to face each other and learn to define themselves in an unfair world. Through the themes of love, family and forgiveness, and the use of alternating perspectives, Salahudin and Noor in the present and Salahudin’s mother in the past, Sabaa Tahir showcases that fear and love connect us all.
Tahir highlights the injustices faced by people of colour, in addition to the everyday struggles they face. Her writing makes the reader rage along with Salahudin and Noor as they face racism and injustices no one should have to endure. You will want to reach into this book and comfort the characters; make them feel safe. Not only does Tahir capture the effects of generational trauma on young people, but she also captures the intricacies of family. Sometimes those who care for us the most have no blood relation, and who you consider family is for the individual to decide.
This book should be in every High School English classroom, and I would even go as far as to suggest its use for book clubs. Its target audience is mature students, grade eleven or twelve, as it deals with physical and sexual abuse, trauma, addiction, Islamophobia, and parental death. Students will see themselves in Salahudin and Noor, regardless of their skin colour, religion, or family dynamic. Fears associated with an unknown future, and disappointing those closest to you, are familiar to us all, regardless of background. I would not hesitate to give this book to any student who enjoyed The Hate U Give or They Both Die at the End.
Tanya Senechal is a Pre-Service Teacher completing her Education degree at the University of New Brunswick. She is an avid reader of YA fiction and YA fantasy who sometimes reads passages aloud for her cat, Nebula.