Before I jump into this review, I must confess that I’ve had this book for a while now. It was sent to me by the absolutely delightful Ishara Deen, but due to health battles and other circumstances, I haven’t been able to pick it up until this past week. In a way, I’m happy that I waited so long because it gave me the opportunity to participate in the Ramadan Readathon with quite a phenomenal piece of literature. I want to take a moment and say that I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to read God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen. It seems that most of the Islamic young adult books I’ve been reading recently have turned out to be some of the best damn books I’ve read from this genre to date. Feeling very proud, ain’t gonna lie.
God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems follows a female protagonist named Asiya Haque, who’s a Bengali-Canadian Muslima. One lovely day while at her volunteer job, Asiya defies her parents and goes on a small, innocent walk with her boy-crush, Michael, during her break. Her cute, little transgression through the woods takes a huge turn for the worse when the duo stumbles onto a dead body. Soon after the incident, Michael disappears without a word, complicating matters quite severely. Convinced of Michael’s innocence, Asiya embarks on a highly delinquent adventure to locate Michael, as well as to prove him to be guilt-free. Her only obstacles are a pair of super-protective parents, a rabid police officer who hates her guts, and a mysterious murderer. How hard can this be… really?
I read this book in two lengthy sittings. It was just so damn good, I didn’t want to stop reading it. One of the main reasons for this infatuation is Asiya herself. From the very beginning we get a taste of the young lady’s witty, sarcastic humour and it bewitches you very fast. Everything about her is charming as all hell. She isn’t afraid to poke fun at her intermittently exasperating situation in regards to her overly-protective and culturally conservative parents. This helps to break a lot of the tension that could arise, making everything less anxious and awkward. Unlike a lot of other YA leading ladies, Asiya is smart. Her intellect shines in the methodical way that she deals with complicated things that keep sprouting up to slap her in the face. While occasionally those very same decisions aren’t always the greatest of ideas, it never stops her from being an independent and admirable, exquisitely capable, protagonist. Damsel-in-distress never crosses your mind ever, and it’s so refreshing to see this sort of badass lady character.
Some other facets that make Asiya so amazing include her capacity for compassion. Understanding that people can make mistakes and learn from said mistakes, helps in connecting Asiya to the reader in an intimately empathetic way. The capacity to recognise that humans are flawed creatures, while still maintaining an intelligent perspective about it, is something that’s rarely portrayed in young adult via such an accessible means. Most of the time it comes off terribly forced, or is repeatedly reiterated. Yet in this novel, it’s something that’s implied by the power of storytelling.
Asiya’s chit-chats with God gave me so much life, and I think they are some of the most relatable aspects of the novel (at least for me). Frequently laced with humour that’s clever, you really can’t help but chuckle along, especially if you’re someone who’s spoken to God when you’ve been in a bind. But I think non-religious folks will also appreciate these scenarios simply for the fact that they are candid and realistic. Super religious superlatives never touch her tongue. She’s just a gal talking to a higher authority for advice and safekeeping, which falls apart more often than not.
Asiya’s awesomeness aside, I loved the incorporation of family in God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems. She has parents who are real and involved in her life quite actively, rather than being the “mandatory background prop.” They do the parental job and discipline her when she does things that you really wouldn’t want your adolescent doing, no matter their faith or culture. They care about their daughter, a lot, and it plays to plot progression in fantastic ways, albeit it can be slightly frustrating at times.
The romance is subtle. There aren’t any sticky or stupid triangles. There’s no unrealistic insta-love. The emotional aspects, while slightly complex due to Asiya’s cultural position, never steal the spotlight of the narrative. It’s there, but it’s not the main focus; it’s not the full driving force of Asiya’s actions.
In regards to the cultural representation of the book, I loved it. While Asiya’s mom can be a tad bit vehement in her goal of protecting Asiya from the male flesh at all costs, it doesn’t portray Islam or Muslims as being anything other than human beings. That’s it. I know, what a concept, right? Yes, there’s some gossip culture within the mosque that Asiya attends, and her parents are quite serious in regards to their reputation amongst the close religious circles, but is this really any different than Christians who attend church regularly, or Jewish families and the synagogues, or Hindus who go to temple? Where there’s a strong religious community, there’s always going to be chatter. One doesn’t have to be a Muslim to experience this sort of social civilisation. It humanises Asiya and her family; making them normal even if they seem abnormal to some.
Plot progression itself felt very genuine. It’s not extremely hasty, or painfully snail-paced. One event after another, unravelled seamlessly with a satisfying blend of atmosphere building, the perfect level of tension, and character distinctions.
In regards to any cons, I wouldn’t really call them cons because that’s too strong of a word. I could see these being issues for some readers and there are only two that I could really distinguish from everything else. The first is Asiya’s mom. She has a very powerful and strong personality that can feel a bit suffocative during particular scenes. Her logic in regards to boys, especially, has a real nagging-like aura that can be immensely grating. Yet, I also found it to be endearing once in a while, due to the fact that she really does love her daughter very much. Her affection really shines, specifically towards the finale. Secondly, it would be Michael, Asiya’s romantic interest. His character felt relatively tropey to me in the way that he ping-ponged back and forth with a few things in relation to his interactions with our leading lady. To be perfectly blunt, it’s a very minor issue, however, it did make it hard for me to empathise with him sporadically throughout the novel.
All in all, God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems is a really, really great novel. It’s suspenseful and engaging, with imperfect characters, a strong and intelligent female protagonist, and a fun plot that’ll keep you guessing.
4.25 statues outta 5!