A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
I can’t even begin to describe just how much this book touched me. Love From A to Z made me feel so seen and so represented and that’s a massive credit to the author behind this incredible book: S.K. Ali. This is hands down, the most unapologetically muslim book I’ve ever had the pleasure to read and it meant everything to me.
The story follows two teen characters; Adam and Zayneb as they deal with their respective problems as well as the moments of joy in their lives, which is framed through their journals. I loved the use of the ‘Marvels and Oddities’ journal here and how they both use the same one, without even knowing it. I found this detail super cute and it lends itself so well to the story, as well as these characters and how they navigate their lives. However, for both characters, marvels have become far and few between, with oddities becoming more regular, as they both go through some of the toughest things they’ve ever had to experience. I seriously want to start a marvels and oddities journal now!
I love that we get to read through both Adam and Zayneb’s perspectives and both are fully developed characters with the narrative being equally divided between them. I also enjoyed the fact that they’re both so different; Zayneb is passionate and into social justice while Adam is artistic and soft spoken and more content to observe and is in his own words ‘a helper’ rather than ‘a shouter’. I also appreciated the fact that the point of contention between the two was Adam not fully being able to grasp the islamaphobia which Zayneb faces, and the fact that Ali clearly depicts the different experiences they have moving through the world, despite sharing the same faith.
I understood Zayneb on such a deep level, especially when it came to her anger, fear and despair at the frequent and relentless instances of anti islamic sentiment she has to face on a daily basis. While I’ve never had a teacher who has gone out of their way to disparage my beliefs, the way Zayneb has in the novel, I felt her anger so viscerally and so personally. This is such a REAL portrayal of the experience of being a Hijab wearing muslim, and I feel like many people will be able to relate to the journey Zayneb goes through. She starts off so overwhelmingly angry at Fencer (her ignorant teacher) and the world which just perpetuates injustice, and she honestly can’t see beyond it all. It was especially touching then, as we see her make some realisations about who she wants to be and how her anger, while so valid, is also hurting her so much. We see her seek comfort in her family, and then in Adam and try a different path in the end, while still holding on to her convictions.
Adam goes on an equally touching journey, we first meet him in a dark place, he is struggling immensely with his MS diagnosis and he’s suffering by himself. He hasn’t yet told anyone about it and he just wants to save his father and baby sister from any pain, not realising the toll it’s taking on him. I think the depiction of his struggle with the illness was done in a respectful and honest way, not downplaying the realities of living with MS but also stayed hopeful. I really liked Adam as a character, and admired his kindness, compassion and empathy. He’s just such a good person and you can see why Zayneb falls for him and vice versa. I appreciated his vulnerability too, it’s so nice reading about a male character who is in touch with his emotions.
One of my absolute favourite things about this novel was the representation of Islam and Muslims as a whole in this novel. S.K. Ali has imbued the story with such authenticity and so much heart and in the process created such a memorable and special story. All the muslim characters in this novel, felt genuine and relatable to me and my experiences, from the way Zayneb interacts with the opposite sex for example, to the cultural references and even down to the choice of suitable and unsuitable hijab materials which made me laugh so much. I can’t quite put into words how it felt to read a story where I felt fully represented and comfortable with the depiction of Islam, as sadly many times I just can’t fully connect. Muslims are not a monolith, so I recognise the fact that different books and voices speak to different members of the community so I’m 100% aware that not all books will speak to me but this novel provides a welcome shift from the usual narratives featuring muslim characters.
At it’s core, this a love story and in case you didn’t know, there’s literally a disclaimer at the beginning haha. I loved the way the romance was written, it was so cute and wholesome and also stays true to both characters and their beliefs. Neither had to compromise their faith or do anything they weren’t comfortable with and both had such an innate understanding and warmth toward each other which was effortless and so beautiful. It also shows the power of their emotional bond without having to be physical which I also appreciated.
Overall, Love From A to Z is such a vital and beautiful story and I know it will mean the world to so many readers. I also value the way it will definitely spark and promote necessary conversations regarding islamaphobia, chronic illness and much more. This book is impactful in all ways and I can’t recommend it enough!
Until next time,