Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: "Love, Hate and Other Filters" by Samira Ahmed

"I guess I don't know how to live the life I want and still be a good daughter."

Maya Aziz is a 17-year-old high school senior, the American-born daughter of Muslim Indians. Her mother expects her to be the perfectly obedient daughter, intelligent and demure, ready to head to college not far from her Illinois home and study medicine. Of course, that will do until her parents find the man she'll marry.

Maya, however, has utterly different plans for her future. Ever since her father gave her a video camera when she was younger, she feels most comfortable observing life through a lens. She dreams of a filmmaking career, and secretly applied to NYU so she can study her craft. But how will her parents take the news that she's ready to move far away from home and live her own life?

On the romantic front, Maya can't help but be intrigued by Kareem, a handsome college student and fellow film buff with whom her parents hope she'll make a match. He's everything her parents want for her, yet beyond being a suitable boy, he has a bit of an independent streak as well, and he clearly is attracted to Maya. So why is it that all she can really think about is Phil, a friend since childhood and the star quarterback of her high school football team, and one-half of the school's most popular couple?

As Maya tries to navigate her life the best way she can, she learns that there is far more to Phil than meets the eye, but she can't let herself think about him romantically when he's dating someone else. Besides, his not being a Muslim would pretty much rule him out in her parents' eyes—if she ever had a chance with him anyway.

When a terrorist attack happens in the state capitol, all of Maya's dreams are dashed. She once again realizes the prejudice she and her family and other Muslims face when something tragic happens. As violence and threats hit even closer to home, Maya wants to push past her fears and let her parents know that life—and her future—can't stop moving forward, but they are determined to protect her by clipping her wings. To what extent should she pursue her own path, and what will that mean for her relationship with her parents? And what about Phil?

"I'm scared. I'm not just scared that somehow I'll be next; it's a quieter fear and more insidious. I'm scared of the next Muslim ban. I'm scared of my dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for 'random' questioning. I'm scared some of the hijabi girls I know will get their scarves pulled off while they're walking down the sidewalk—or worse. I'm scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always."

Love, Hate and Other Filters is, in a lot of ways, two books in one. It's the story of an independent, creative girl determined to live life her own way, despite expectations and customs to the contrary, and it's a look at how all of her brashness is powerless in the face of love she doesn't feel entitled to. In that way, it feels like a typical YA book, and Samira Ahmed really lets you into Maya's heart and mind.

At the same time, this is a book about the prejudice Muslims face in our country, especially since 9/11. It tells of the fears Muslims have when they hear of an incident, how they hope against hope the perpetrator wasn't a Muslim so it won't cause people to look differently or angrily at them, even though they have nothing to do with what happened. It's also a story about how hard it is to decide whether to give in to your fears, to let them control you, or to fight them head on.

I really enjoyed this book, although at times it felt a little disjointed between the two storylines. But Ahmed created really engaging characters, many of whom transcended stereotypes, and she did throw a very unexpected twist in as well. I loved Maya and found Phil, Violet, Kareem, and Hina to be pretty fascinating. I wouldn't have minded if the book was longer, because I wanted more of their stories.

Love, Hate and Other Filters definitely gives you something to think about, but it's not heavy-handed in its messaging. It's a worthwhile, enjoyable read, although it may skew a little younger than many recent YA books I've read.

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