Monday, 8 July 2019

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Review: The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Published: 29th January 2019 | Publisher: Scholastic US | Source: Won from author
Sabina Khan's Website

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?
From Goodreads.

Book Depository | Wordery | Goodreads

I won this proof in a giveaway on Twitter hosted by the author.

Trigger/Content Warnings: This book features colourism, homophobia, homophobic violence, discussion of forced marriage, imprisonment, drugging, a hunger strike, excorcism, a child bride, paedophilia, incest, rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, and murder of a gay person.

I had wanted to read The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan ever since I first heard about it, and I so very much wanted to like it! But unfortunately, this one fell pretty flat with me.

The book is full of Rukhsana's culture - the close-nit family, the food, the clothes, the traditions - and I felt I really got a feel for life for the well off in Bangladesh, which was awesome. And the concept for the story was incredible, and I feel with some editing, this would make quite a powerful, important story. But the fact is it would need a lot of editing. Essentially re-written from the ground up. This was, in my opinion, very badly put together.

The main issue for me was the writing; I hate to say it, but I feel it's quite badly written. It's disjointed and clunky, and didn't feel natural to me. There's a lot of telling over showing when it came to how Rukhsana was feeling and how she was thinking, and so many awkwardly written conversations. At the beginning, the scenes didn't flow, and felt to me more like they were added after the book had been written, as if Khan had been told it needed more to give us an idea of Rukhsana's life. But they were more snapshots than anything; here is Rukhsana with her friends at a restaurant. Here's Rukhsana hanging out with her girlfriend Arianna. In this regard, it definitely got better when Rukhsana was in Bangladesh, but there were also a lot of events that I feel should have been cut. They weren't really being needed, not adding anything to the story. It was such a hard slog to get through, but I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but unfortunately it didn't. This is such a horrific novel in regards to what Rukhsana experiences, it's absolutely terrifying, but I didn't care as much as I should have; I just really wanted it to finish.

I had real issues with Rukhsana's friends, Jen and Rachel, as well as Arianna. They completely refuse to understand Rukhsana's culture and how that affects the potential devastating affects of her coming out to her parents. They pressure her so much, and constantly accuse her of hurting Arianna by her silence. They tell her she's being over dramatic, it surely won't be that bad. So she'll be shouted at and maybe grounded, but they'll get over it. They just simply won't listen. And while I understand it can be difficult and upsetting when the one you love freezes every time you touch her in public, Arianna really just doesn't try to get it at all. It's always about Arianna and how she feels, how she's hurting, even when Rukhsana is in Bangladesh. I know white queer people have a lot of privilege, and so won't really get the experiences of queer people of colour, but Arianna is in a relationship with Rukhsana, and she doesn't even try? I could maybe understand if she tried, and it was selfishly too much for her, but to not even try, and to constantly blame Rukhsana... it almost felt to me like Arianna forgot homophobia was a thing, and there absolutely should be no reason why Rukhsana's parents would have an issue. It really doesn't take much to set her off. I think their relationship was really unhealthy and quite toxic.

And the ending felt so rushed to me. How the story was resolved was just unbelievable. I literally didn't believe it. I didn't believe what happened, and I didn't believe what Rukhsana felt about it. Especially after everything she went through, how she was treated, how her parents spoke to her and what they did to her. The ending just didn't make any sense to me. There's a conversation between Rukhsana and her friends where she says how they don't understand her culture, and what [redacted] means, and why some things are the way they are, so perhaps the same for me, too. Maybe I am too privileged to understand that ending. But an ending where the police and social services aren't involved just doesn't make sense to me. Numerous crimes were committed, and Rukhsana is an American citizen. Some people have a duty of care, and the fact that they did nothing was ridiculous. I also feel there would probably be some consequences to Rukhsana's mental health regarding everything she had been through, but that's not mentioned at all.

Unfortunately, The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali just really wasn't for me. But other people have really enjoyed it, so do read some other reviews before deciding whether or not to read it yourself.

You might also like:

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Over to you graphic
What are your thoughts on forced marriage stories? Have you read any books where a character struggled with their queer identity and their culture's beliefs? Will you be reading The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali? Let me know in the comments!

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