“My dream was to one day work at NASA. I knew it was a long shot, but I liked a challenge.”
Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old 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.”
Trigger warnings: homophobia, physical and emotional abuse, rape and sexual assault.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a book that I clicked with instantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint the thread that had me turning page after page with no sign of stopping. Sabina Khan does a fantastic job of explaining Rukhsana’s life and dropping the reader into an incredibly important period: the all-too familiar final school year before college. Rukhsana is already facing a tremendous amount of pressure and as a Muslim daughter of Bengali parents, she’s also battling the expectations that she should be married off as soon as possible. Despite the fact that she has just secured a scholarship at her dream school and also she’s a lesbian. It was wonderful to go through this story with an already established gay relationship and the scenes with Rukhsana and Ariana were so heart-warming to read as they were just so comfortable in each other’s company; the love felt real.
I expected a turn to happen in this book when Rukhsana’s parents finally found out about the relationship but I didn’t expect them to go to the extremes they did. I gasped, cried, and recoiled at many of the scenes that unfolded as a result of a parent’s desperate attempts to control their child. This shift provided the stark reminder that, while society is becoming more liberal and accepting, there are still places in the world where being gay can result in death, and that there is an older generation clinging to their religious beliefs so tightly that they are willing to let their children suffer greatly as a consequence.
An unexpected aspect was the Grandma’s role in the story. She is one of the few people accepting of Rukhsana’s love life because she has experienced times in her own life where she was beaten down and forced into a box. Her narrative, through both dialogue and diary pages, shows what can happen when someone chooses to conform to what is expected of them. It’s almost a lose-lose situation. This part of the narrative is where it gets quite dark and triggering which is why I’ve applied the aforementioned warnings at the start of this review.
The Love And Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a story about fighting for who you love, and who you want to be, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.
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