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Love from A to Z

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Love from A to Z Book Poster Image
North American Muslim teens find romance on Qatar trip.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The novel offers readers a look at the insults and false assumptions that can be an almost everyday occurrence for young Muslin women. On the flight to Doha, the woman seated next to Zayneb (who's been muttering things like "bitch" under her breath since she first sat down) sees her writing in her journal in Arabic and demands to be moved, loudly telling a flight attendant she's being threatened. In an odd twist, when Zayneb tries to swim in the pool at her aunt's apartment complex in Doha, a man reports her for wearing a modest non-revealing swimsuit and not an acceptable one or two-piece swimsuit. In the Author's Note, Ali relates that these two incidents were based on her own personal experience. Zayneb tells friends in Indiana about the hateful reactions she often gets from feminists who see her hijab as a sign of oppression rather than a symbol of her faith.

 

Positive Messages

No matter your age, you can stand up and speak out against racism and injustice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As a hijab-wearing teen, Zayneb is accustomed to people making snap judgments about her ("she must be a terrorist" or "oppressed by the men in her family"), but she's proud of her faith and what her hijab represents. When a teacher continues to make false and inflammatory statements about Islam and Muslims, she calls him out and doesn't back down. Adam, confronted with an uncertain future because of his MS, is determined it won't keep him from having the best possible life.

Violence

Students read a news report about an "honor killing" in which a Muslim girl is buried alive. A character learns that her Pakistani grandmother, was killed on her way to a wedding by an American drone strike gone wrong. 

Sex

Adam and Zayneb fall in love but share a value regarding dating: no kissing, touching, or sexting. Characters kiss in the epilogue.

Language

A very few uses of "bitch," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "a--hole." A single use of "c--t." 

Consumerism

Numerous references to movies (Little Women, Black Panther, The Lion King). Characters play Angry Birds on their phones. Adam and his friends are huge Harry Potter fans and Zayneb's Aunt Natasha loves to listen to 70s music. A section at the back of the book titled "Love From A to Z Top Ten Contenders," lists the 10 songs that appear in the book and dedicates each song to a specific group of people ( "I Will Survive" to the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council, "Seasons in the Sun" to old friends who supported her and shared her love of books, "Stand By Me" to her family).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character's adult, non-Muslim relative keeps a box of liquor stashed away in her apartment.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the "A" in S.K. Ali's Love from A to Z is Adam Chen, a Chinese Finnish Canadian Muslim university freshman with a devastating secret. The "Z" is Zayneb Malik, a Pakistani Guyanese Trinidadian hijab-wearing high school senior from Indiana, who's been suspended from school after confronting an Islamophobic teacher. The two meet on a flight to Doha, Qatar, where both will be spending spring break. Adam is returning home to tell his father and sister that he's been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease that took his mother's life. As the story and a budding romance unfold, Adam tries to see his way forward into an uncertain future and Zayneb teams up with her friends back home to try to hold her teacher to account. There are a few uses of strong language ("bitch," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole" and a single use of "c--t"). Told through the journal entries of Adam and Zayneb, the novel uses two enormously relatable and thoughtful characters to shine a bright light on Islamophobia, social injustice, and drone warfare.

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What's the story?

LOVE FROM A TO Z  begins on a flight to Doha, the capital of Qatar. Adam Chen, a Chinese Finnish Canadian university freshman is summoning the courage to tell his father and younger sister that he has multiple sclerosis (MS), the same disease that killed his mother 10 years before. Zayneb Malik, a Pakistani Guyanese Trinidadian high school senior from Indiana, got an unexpected early start to her spring break by being suspended from school after confronting a teacher who constantly brings his Islamophobia into the classroom. After meeting briefly on the plane, the two reconnect at a party and Adam and Zayneb (often with his younger sister, Hanna) begin spending time together. As young Muslims (Adam, his father, and sister are converts), they share a common set of values when it comes to even casual dating — no kissing, touching, or sexting. They're still beginning to explore their feelings for each other when their relationship is put to the test. Adam has a serious attack of MS and Zayneb needs support and understanding when she learns that her Pakistani grandmother, on her way to a wedding, was killed in an American drone strike gone terribly wrong. As the time for her to leave Doha and Adam to return to Indiana nears, Zayneb and her high school friends think they may have uncovered a way to publicly expose their teacher as a racist. An epilogue brings readers up to date on Adam and Zayneb's lives four years later.

Is it any good?

This unforgettable love story takes on controversial issues like Islamophobia, racism in the classroom, and the morality of drone warfare. Like Ali's first novel, Saints and MisfitsLove from A to Z features a smart, feisty hijab-wearing teen girl who sees an injustice and demands that it be righted. Both novels are excellent reads for teens who want to learn more about what life is like for young Muslims living their faith in a multicultural world that can be both welcoming and threatening.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the racism and bigotry that Zayneb encounters in Love from A to Z. What do you think of how she handles her encounters with the woman on the plane and the man at the pool? What would you have done?

  • If a teacher at your school made racist or homophobic statements or was demeaning to girls in the class, what would happen to them? Why do you think it took so long for someone to stand up to Mr. Fencer? 

  • How did you like the story being told through the journal entries of Adam and Zayneb? Did you find it effective? Why do you think the author chose that format? 

  • As they start spending time together, Adam and Zayneb share a common set of values on how they'll behave -- no kissing, no touching, no sexting. Do you think it's a good idea to set some ground rules when you begin dating someone?

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