Muslim Girl Book Review

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani al-Khatahtbeh: 5/5 Stars2000px-5_stars-svg

mg-final-cover-653x1024To everyone who might buy this, expecting to read a series of Islamophobic incidents one after another, think again. “Muslim Girl” is not merely a memoir of a girl growing up in a racist, bigoted society. It is a narrative of Muslim women speaking up for themselves. It is clearing up misconceptions that arise due to media outlets and government officials talking over women. It is an argument for a cultural and philosophical shift that would explain why we carry a certain mindset and point of view. Most of all, it reflects true challenges of making such an intellectual change possible: institutional resistance and physical danger being a few.

Some background: I started following al-Khatahtbeh on social media networks after being a member of the audience at CGIU (Clinton Global Initiative University). She stressed the importance of Muslim girls dictating their narratives themselves, a message that (as a second-generation immigrant) strongly resonated with me. “Muslim Girl” presents anecdotes that provoke afterthought, one example being Amani’s family’s relocating to Jordan due to Islamophobia. Is this what the United States has come to and is this the country we want to be? Even in American high schools, we see whitewashed narratives dominate that frame events as black-and-white; our nation remains faultless in textbooks, despite the reality being quite the opposite. A few anecdotes from the Koran reveal how progressive Islam actually is–contrary to most media commentary— by encouraging discipline and compassion. But perhaps one of the most moving narratives was that of Muslim girls taking back their narrative into their own hands, and not just from mainstream media but from Muslim men as well. When Trump rambled about his Islamophobic policy, they chose not to actively cover him and give him more attention.  When hate crimes increased as women wearing the hijab were targeted, they published a safety guide for women. As hate continued to increase, they sought to reconcile their individual differences and bridge gaps as a community.

And those stories delivered the most uplifting motif of the book: a sense of hope for the future.

A Winter’s Tale: Week #1!

Cartoon by A.K. Renganathan

Books:

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Thoughts: Theon is a jerk. Tyrion is awesome-sauce. And Catelyn Stark, you are my new favorite character.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Thoughts: I’m glad Diamond chose to focus on an evolutionary perspective before diving down into historical details. Looking forward to reading the rest.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart<–COMPLETED!
Final thoughts: After reading Jaycee Dugard’s autobiography, I was looking forward to read Elizabeth Smart’s account of her kidnapping and recovery. Despite the occasional dryness in between chapters, I wasn’t disappointed. Smart’s book emphasized how she managed to stay intact during her kidnapping and not lose herself. Compared to Dugard’s account which focused on her captivity and experience, Smart emphasized the importance of family and divine belief. While Smart chose not to focus on the legal circumstances of the case, her story was nonetheless both moving and inspiring.

Verdict: If you want an account of the Smart case and how Elizabeth was found, this book doesn’t dish on that. But a survivor’s tale? Most definitely.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth <–COMPLETED!
Final thoughts: Oh dear where do I begin. I remember walking away from Mockingjay feeling depressed, betrayed, hurt, yet satisfied, knowing the trilogy ended the best way it could. As I wrapped up the last pages of Allegiant, I double checked the title page to make sure I was reading Veronica Roth’s work.  (Read more…)

TV Shows:

Elementary Season 1 Episode 21, 22, 23, 24


SPOILER WARNING for above episodes

Thoughts: Every time I mention the series to friends, I get a blank look or a “Sherlock-traitor”  response. I love Sherlock, don’t get me wrong, but for all you Sherlockians out there, in terms of modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptations Elementary is a close second. The season finale didn’t disappoint and neither did the series as a whole. I remember initially being peeved about the series; Watson was a woman, the series was in New York instead of London, and Lestrade was absent. It felt like the world was ending–no exaggeration intended. But since I’m all for crazy ideas, I decided to give the pilot a shot and ended up watching till the end of season one without any moments of hesitation.

Here’s why:

  1. A man and a woman can be friends: The one concept which TV-shows fail to get is that a man and a woman can have a completely platonic relationship (CW I’m looking at you). Elementary distinguishes itself that way, and while Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have some amazing chemistry, the idea of friendship makes their banter and more intimate scenes even more touching.
  2. The female characters: Finally a show with a female character whose storyline doesn’t revolve around a love story. Joan Watson, well-educated, respected, and unwilling to put up with Sherlock’s occasional B.S. is both heroic and flawed. And she’s portrayed by Lucy Liu–need I add more? Moriarty, a foil to Watson, is charming yet unpredictable at the same time. I thought no one could top Andrew Scott, but Natalie Dormer might best that in future episodes (according to promotional videos, Moriarty will return next year!).
  3. The mysteries: One of the downsides of BBC’s Sherlock is the overplay of Moriarty. Don’t get me wrong–I love opportunities to give Andrew Scott more screen time.  But given the number of Arthur Conan Doyle works featuring Moriarty in comparison with five out of the six Sherlock episodes focusing on Moriarty-related scenarios, it was hard to believe that only one character could be responsible for the majority of London’s police crises. Moriarty is more of a subtle figure in Elementary, allowing her to make the major entrance the character deserved. 
  4. Watson: Watson was never a character who accompanied Holmes for the sake of company–he was a true partner in Holmes’s cases, making observations and taking accounts when needed (The Hound of the Baskervilles if you don’t believe me). That’s what Elementary gets right–Joan is instrumental toward solving several of the cases, even outsmarting Moriarty in the season finale.
Verdict: Season 2 here we go!

Allegiant: Why I’m facepalming

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

*SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT*

Oh dear where do I begin.

I remember walking away from Mockingjay feeling depressed, betrayed, hurt, yet satisfied, knowing the trilogy ended the best way it could. As I wrapped up the last pages of Allegiant, I double checked the title page to make sure I was reading Veronica Roth’s work. Given how compelling both Divergent and Insurgent were, I knew my expectations to the final installment of the trilogy were quite high. However, Allegiant failed to meet the “worthy of a reread” mark.

Let’s start with the dual perspectives. I found myself incredibly annoyed that every couple of pages I had to flip back to check whether I was in Tobias’s head or Tris’s. There was no differentiation in tone, no indication of who was speaking. At some point I wondered why Stephenie Meyer could pull off different points of view (yes I hated Breaking Dawn but I will give Meyer this–Jacob’s voice was distinct from Bella’s), but Veronica Roth, who wrote two satisfactory novels, couldn’t.  The only purpose of the dual perspectives was to explain the ending–which didn’t help with redeeming the book overall.

In light of all the scientific plot holes involving evolution (isolating populations won’t result in reversal to a less deleterious trait i.e. divergence–the founder effect doesn’t work that way) and the baseless relationship conflict that had Tobias and Tris barking at each other for a hundred pages, I was hoping that the ending would somehow redeem the truckload of a mess I had just pulled myself through.

Before I address the conclusion that has fans sending Veronica Roth quite strongly-worded tweets, I admit it–I cheated. Like any other overly-excited fan, I scrolled through Tumblr until I hit the spoiler tag. Yes, I cursed in different languages. I face-palmed. I screamed. But in the end, I realized its potential. After all, the Divergent trilogy are all war-based stories. The idea of the narrator and main character of the series dying was both realistic and fitting, and I knew that it could be well written and suiting for the conclusion at the same time.

Then I read the book.

It was interesting how there was no Plan B suggested for the suicide mission; when trying to overpower a political system, minimizing losses is essential. So why does no one propose an alternative plan that could potentially evade death? Besides that loophole, the main problem stems from the timing of Tris’s death. When a character dies, it usually means one of two things: a) He/she died a tragic figure or b) He/she completed his/her journey and died in the process or as part of achieving a goal. Veronica Roth, when asked about Tris’s death, said that her journey was complete as she had acted in the ultimate act of selflessness.

Sorry, but…since when is going on a suicide mission and leaving everyone you love selfless? Since when is acting on recklessness and mindless self-sacrifice (a flaw repeatedly pointed out by Tobias) rather than overcoming it character development? Completion of a character arc doesn’t necessarily call for death, and in this case, the arc was both incomplete and the death unnecessary as it didn’t accomplish anything.

Sydney Carton died to relieve a life of shame. Jim Casy died for Tom to initiate his journey (and for Steinbeck to call out the political system during the Great Depression). Aslan died to save Edmund and to save Narnia. Tris died to save Caleb (who–by the way–didn’t get his redemption arc) while not completing her journey.

The last book of every series is extra-susceptible to criticism due to anticipation and the fact that all story arcs are at a close. But given the poor plotting and character development, I think it’s safe to say the Allegiant criticism is quite valid.

Verdict: For such a promising series, the final installment was a disappointment.