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When the opportunity arose to review Ishara Deen’s God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems, I jumped at the chance. My interest in YA fiction and overall NEED for #ownvoices made the choice an easy one. The book did not disappoint. I finished it in one day. I just couldn’t put it down. The overall language of the book is engaging and oftentimes laugh out loud funny. It is a book I wish existed when I was a teenager, and I will happily recommend this to the teenagers in my life.
The main character, Asiya Haque, is a Bangladeshi 17-year-old living in Canada. Her family is a conservative Muslim one and as such the story opens with Asiya getting a lecture about from her mother about never being alone with a boy. It isn’t a new lecture; it’s one Asiya has heard many times before but she does her best to not roll her eyes or get openly frustrated with her mother. She reminds herself of a mother’s status in Islam by repeating the mantra “watermelon/bagel” (as in, during birth, her mother pushed a watermelon size baby through an opening the size of a bagel). She recalls the story of the Prophet Muhammed explaining to a man that the mother has three times more right over him than his father. Deen’s explanations of all of this are humorous and stated plainly. Asiya’s ruminations on Islam are as much a part of her as thinking about clothes. It is who she is. I appreciated Deen not shying away from writing about Islam this way. It was refreshing to see the interactions between her and her mother and feel “yep, I’ve been there.” Asiya has conversations with God throughout the book, the way one would with a friend.
Asiya’s Muslim identity infuses every part of her interactions and actions in the book. But Deen pulls it off masterfully because as a reader it feels seamless. Again, this is who Asiya is. And I can’t repeat it enough, because this is what it feels like to me too, to be a Muslim girl. And I love that a book exists that reflects that.
When Asiya is on assignment for her job as a volunteer, she runs into her crush, Michael. She finds out it’s not really a coincidence and he followed her there purposely. Turns out Michael likes Asiya too. Deen describes Asiya’s feelings when he grabs her hand as “an all over, face-to-feet body smack. He was only holding my hand but the point of contact seemed like a beacon of sensation that flowed up my arm to warm my entire body.” But then she comes back to herself and tells him “I know I’m supposed to be all about teenage rebellion and that this is thoroughly uncool, but…I don’t want to let them down.”
This! This right here was everything to me. For so many Muslim girls caught between listening and respecting their parents and following their own desires, this is what it comes down to. Asiya will find herself caught up in situations that will put her at odds with her cultural and religious teachings but she always tries her best to do the right thing. And when she does ultimately let her parents down in some way or other, she feels guilty. There is a heaviness that comes with disappointing them that we feel alongside her.
The book’s main plot is the murder mystery Asiya and Michael find themselves caught up in. The mystery is interesting and definitely keeps all the characters busy. I didn’t figure it out right away and there are some twists and turns. But overall, the mystery is more like a secondary story here.
The real charm of the book is the characters. Deen has created such likeable and relatable people that I found myself wanting more of them. Asiya’s best friend, Em, who’s supportive but doesn’t quite get it; her friends at the masjid who are hilarious and a highlight of the book; the Bangladeshi critical auntie who loves to gossip. Then there’s her family: her father who is quietly rooting for his daughter; her younger brother who’s got her back; and her loving, overwhelming mother who cares too much. I hope we get to see and learn more about them in the sequel, Mutaweenies and Other Muslim Girl Problems.
I wasn’t thrilled with the title and there’s a section where Asiya is doing a search on male anatomy that I think went on too long and started to make me uncomfortable. Other than that, this book was an enjoyable read with a protagonist that would’ve made my younger self feel less alone in the world. I hope it does the same for others now.