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. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
I believe this young adult novel can be relevant and important to certain adolescent girls. I continuously mention I grew up with extremely religious (Pentecostal) parents. Numerous things were prohibited and taboo — for certain being gay was (and remains) an enormous sin. According to hardcore Pentecostals, being gay will definitely earn you a place in hell. Though Rukhsana’s parents are not Pentecostal, but Muslim, their beliefs are even more strict! From the beginning, readers know Rukhsana is gay and in a relationship, which she is hiding from her strict and traditional Bengali-Muslim parents. Her white friends and girlfriend simply don’t get or understand her parent’s rigid beliefs and expectations (at times they’re super clueless).
There were definitely some intense moments when I was outraged and heartbroken for Rukhsana, but I also believed her circumstances could happen in real life. Growing up Dominican-American and religious made me identify with Rukhsana on various levels. Like me, she had a complicated relationship with her mother; and she had to navigate two different cultures constantly. At times she was filled with conflict and frustration because she could not please everyone in her life. There were several versions of Rukhsana, which is honestly accurate of most teens. This is Khan’s first novel and I enjoyed her descriptive writing especially the way she described food. Throughout the book, chai lattes came up so much I begged two of my friends to please make me an authentic cup! And boy did they come through! The chai they made was so damn delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever had (Starbucks). The only dilemma? Now I want/need more… :-/
I reached out to Sabina Khan and asked what inspired her to write the book. Here’s her answer:
Thank you to Scholastic Press for the advanced reading copy! The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali comes out January 29, 2019, but you can pre-order it today.