by KB Meniado
American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs. Read reviews: Goodreads
WHAT I LIKED
It’s an #OwnVoices novel told from the perspective of an American-born Muslim teen, and for any YA reader picking up more and more diverse books, this one is pretty special. In terms of writing style, it uses the first person and the present tense, which can put anyone right in the moments and straight into Maya’s head. The story itself has many layers that, when peeled one by one, can both be eye-opening and relevant even to those not from an Asian cultural background, an Islamic upbringing, or an nth-generation immigrant family. I loved how Maya’s coming-of-age, including her pursuit for passion and for romance (there’s a love triangle, if you’re into that; also, the swoon between Maya and Phil can get real)—two things that anybody in the world can relate to, was embedded in timely issues such as Islamophobia, terrorism and racism—three things everybody in the world should learn more about.
This has been billed as an equally laudable version of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and the cover does remind me of that very much, but I thought it fell short on a few things that THUG has excelled at. For example, I wasn’t able to completely appreciate Maya, as she was a little too hot-and-cold in terms of characterization.
(Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.)
I know I’m not the only one hoping for this. I know millions of American Muslims—both religious and secular—are echoing these very same words at this very same moment. I know I’m not a very good Muslim, but I hope my prayers are heard. Prayers for the dead and wounded. Prayers for ourselves. Prayers for peace, hoping that no more lives are lost to hate.
“And I didn’t ask you to come to our country.”
“But I was born here . . .” I let my voice fade. There is no point in responding or trying to be reasonable. It’s safer if I keep my mouth shut.
What he doesn’t understand is that right now, nothing can reassure me.
(If I may—she was so self-centered at times, I started to wonder if this was how most teens are now like.)
I was also not too fond of her too much antagonism towards her parents,
“Maya.” The earlier tender tone in my mom’s voice dissipates. “Enough of these sarcastic remarks. You can go to the mosque and pray for the poor people who lost their lives. You will go. That’s final.”
“Fine. I’ll play the devout daughter for you.”
“Maya,” my father yells, but I ignore him.
mostly because I felt like some definitions were lacking in the entirety of the story in general, such as how culture and religion—two central themes—played into the characters’ and community’s lives. I would have enjoyed this better should there have been more internalization or a major change of heart on Maya’s side (the hate crime that happened to her parents should have done that), as that would represent her growth as the story went along. The use of the terrorist’s story could have also helped tying the story tighter, and so goes the same for the rest of the promising supporting characters, like her ~woke aunt Hina (see below).
“I’m not married? You don’t want Maya to be too independent like me? Well, I’m happy, if that matters to you. I have a great life and great friends, and I love being a graphic designer. I designed a banner that’s hanging from every lamppost in downtown Chicago to raise money and awareness for breast cancer.And I’m proud of that. I hope Maya can have all the things that make her happy and more.And if she wants to get married, that should be her choice.”
While missing a couple of opportunities for heart-tugging and enlightening moments, Love, Hate & Other Filters remains an important book that belongs in any diverse YA reader’s shelf. ☁