17 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?
What a perfect book to start pride month with! I delved into this book with little expectations and not knowing a lot about it, and I ended up really enjoying it. I always like contemporaries with a twist that stand out from the crowd, and this one did because of it’s Bengali culture and diverse characters. Reading about how other people live is so important and fascinating, and so fun to find out how other cultures celebrate.
In fact, the representation of Bengali culture and Rukhsana’s religion (Muslim) were probably my favourite things about the book, and made me want to go back to it. Learning about how deeply flawed Rukhsana’s parents/families viewpoints are kept it so interesting and engaging, but was also written really well. For example, she understood that even though they were misguided more because of their culture, Rukhsana made us understand everyone is flawed, no matter their background or religion. Hence this quote, which I loved and found so important: “Every time I say something bad about my family, it becomes more about where I come from than just regular stuff people go through with their parents.”. Discussing this topic felt so needed.
‘We must be the masters of our own destinies. I did not learn that until it was too late. You have to fight to take back control of your life.’
From a plot point of view, this book flew by. It’s only short but not at all lighthearted, and discusses super heavy topics that left me with tears in my eyes at points. I just couldn’t help but feel heartbroken over Rukhsana’s situation, and that shows how emotionally connected to her I felt. However, it wasn’t all sad and the lighthearted scenes were so fun and heartwarming, and often included lots of food! I think the descriptions of food and drink meant so much in this novel, specifically because it pushed the feeling of Bengali culture.
Talking of more heartwarming parts, I adored the cast of characters. Rukhsana’s friends and distant relatives, plus people she found along the way, made this book what it is. Considering we had such a large group of people, I also coped pretty well, and rarely got confused. That’s definitely a testament to the writing!
‘Sometimes you will hurt the ones you love the most. But in the end, it will always have to be your choice.’
Which brings me onto my only real issue, and unfortunately the reason this book didn’t get 5 stars for me. The writing felt very disjointed and jumpy in places, especially when Rukhsana would change her mind about things so quickly. It’s very hard to describe how the writing impacted the book, but it’s almost as if the book had a very detailed plot line with a timeline of events, but the jumps between those events didn’t run as smoothly as they could have?
However, the writing only stopped me from enjoying the book a little bit, and it’s definitely something I can see improving as Khan writes more. Because of that, I’d definitely pick up other books by her!
4 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽
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5 thoughts on “Review: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan”
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