This book felt like a love letter.
I read Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali on the 10th of June 2019. It took me approximately 9 hours to read it. I sat curled up on my bed, the rain beating gently against my window, and devoured it. Every turn of the page tugged at me. I have never felt so… represented. For lack of a better word.
Every cliché about reading a book being like coming home became true. It’s as if all my years of reading have actually been a long search, every page a step towards finding this book. I feel like whatever I say in this review won’t do it justice.
This book is the most unapologetically Muslim book I have ever read, where the characters don’t compromise their beliefs or their faith to accommodate western ideals.
Where Zayneb is tired of injustice and islamophobia and micro aggression and isn’t afraid to fight it, even if it gets her suspended from school. Where Adam is constantly trying to find peace in his life, and how to be at peace with his circumstances and how to tell his Dad
about his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. (I would actually be very curious to see what someone with MS thought about this book).
First of all, the writing and the pacing of this story is beautiful. The description, the characterisation, the setting, the dialogue, everything. S. K. Ali has this way of making me fall completely and utterly in love with her characters and connect with them so deeply. I
was so invested in them throughout the book, both at how they would end up together and how they would end up growing individually.
It’s written in dual perspective, which I adored. What’s the one thing better than reading someone fall in love? Reading two people fall in love with each other!
Sometimes, authors write dual perspectives and can’t seem to master their character’s voices and end up writing two characters who read the exact same. Ali has a talent for giving her character’s individuality. The fact that it was written in first person and was in fact a look into their journals meant that the reading experience was very personal, and the characters were
What’s insane is they both names their journals ‘The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence. They were both inspired by a thirteenth-century illustration of a tree from a book by the Persian geographer and natural historian, Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al- Qazwini called The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence. They were both inspired to record the Marvels and Oddities in their lives (Zeynab more Oddities, Adam more Marvels)
This similarity they both shared despite never having met before, just made me believe in fate.
The story follows Zayneb and Adam. Zayneb lives in America and gets suspended from school for an altercation with her Islamophobic teacher. Off to Qatar she goes to relax and cool down with her aunt who is a teacher at an International school in Doha. She’s so passionate and angry and kind and headstrong. I’m utterly in awe of her. Her passion is so visceral, her anger almost tangible. Her determination to make waves, to see change and to see the world become a little better was admirable.
Adam is a student in London but hasn’t told his Dad that he’s dropped out or about his MS diagnosis and is on his way back to his Dad and sister in Doha. He’s laid back, quiet, finds peace in everything, an artist and incredibly strong to be facing the condition that cause this mother to pass away, completely alone. I really loved his character.
The two sit across from each other at the airport in London and then meet again in Doha and… the rest is history!
What really struck me was how well S. K. Ali wrote Islamophobia and micro-aggression into the story. It highlights how literally anyone could despise you just because of your belief system. How teachers, those people who are meant to be role models and have such a huge impact on children’s lives can have so much hate towards you, just for existing. It really made me sad. She portrayed how micro-aggressions can have you overthinking and confused and unsure if you’re over-reacting so perfectly. (You’re usually not over-reacting
just so you know). As someone who lives as a minority in a western country, these encounters are definitely ones I have experienced, and it was gratifying to see it confirmed between these pages.
I loved how we see this as Zayneb’s experience and the contrast between that and how Adam is a revert who doesn’t experience these things living in a majority Muslim country. Zayneb is more visibly Muslim with her hijab and brown skin, whereas Adam, who is half Chinese half Finnish, won’t face Islamophobia based on his outward appearance. The author showed just how diverse the Muslim experience is. The ways we experience things are not monolith. It was an important lesson for him, to realise that, just because they share the same faith, doesn’t mean Zayneb gets treated the same way he does.
You know what, let me speak about them falling in love (my favourite part). They were able to get to know each other so well but still followed the rules set by Islam. Seeing their relationship blossom and how ‘halal dating’ works was so satisfying. Do you know how
many Muslim young people probably think that this is impossible? Opening this book and reading these characters falling in love and interacting in a totally halal way and still ending up married was the most perfect thing ever. They stuck to their values and I loved how the precautions and the boundaries that needed to be drawn up were actually discussed in the story. And you know what, they struggled with not touching each other or not being alone together but that’s what’s realistic. It was a very honest presentation of the Muslim experience of meeting someone they like, feeling attraction and emotions, not knowing if they should talk about it with each other or anyone really. Them trying to keep the boundaries in place but wanting to be as close to them as possible. Trying to see if they’re compatible, if they fit right. Watching them work all this out on top of everything else was a delight.
A quick raise of the glass to healthy parent/child relationships. We love to see it. The connection they had with their parents made me weepy, especially the one between Adam and his father.
Honestly, I closed it feeling ever so slightly sad. Not just because that was the end of my journey with Adam and Zeynab, but because this was the book that I needed growing up.
Sixteen-year-old Bochra would never dream of ever finding this book in her hands. I’m treasuring this book forever and ever; it’ll be my gift to every young Muslim girl I come across. I’m going to email my old secondary school librarian and tell him about it because wow. And you know what, I’d want young Muslim boys to read this book as well. Adam’s perspective is so mature and well-articulated and the way he speaks about his faith with such certainty, the way he clings onto hope and how he doesn’t change his beliefs to suit those around him. He’s honestly a role model.
Both these characters are flawed, and I’m so happy they’re not perfect because I’d feel so at odds with this book if they were. If they were perfect Muslims who didn’t swear or didn’t have desires and doubts, I’d never want anybody to read it. The characters are real and
that’s what made this book so perfect to me.
Many other themes were explored in this book, so seamlessly woven into the story, things like cultural appropriation, sibling relationships, jealousy in friendships, loss.
If you do pick this book up, I’d be elated. I hope you love it as much as I do.