Title: Love From A to Z
Author: S.K. Ali
Publication Date: April 30th, 2019
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Genre: Romance, contemporary
Age Range: YA
Maybe that’s what living is—recognizing the marvels and oddities around you.
If I had to pick my favorite YA contemporary of all time, it just might be Love from A to Z. It contains so much heart, humor, unabashed discussion of Islamophobia, and validation for any person of color living in the current political climate. While it is a romance novel (with a swoon-worthy, realistic romance to boot), Love from A to Z goes above and beyond with its approach to how to be an ally, how to engage in difficult conversations with friends, and how family ties into the way we move through the world around us.
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry. When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Love from A to Z is an unapologetic story about being Muslim in a very Islamophobic world and how to navigate teen romance in the midst of activism, chronic health issues, and rocky family dynamics. I absolutely loved reading the interactions between Zayneb and Adam and their respective families, but what I loved most were the moments with Adam’s group of friends in Doha.
One of my favorite things about Love from A to Z is that it represents and validates the diversity of experience within the same marginalized group. Not all people of color are going to have the patience to explain why something is racist, and not all people of color are going to have the emotional and mental capacity to do so either. Some people are able to let things slide in favor of saving their energy; others can’t stay silent in the face of bigotry – all of these reactions are valid, and I was honestly floored that Love from A to Z talked about this because it’s something I feel is underrepresented in all forms of media.
Seeing her totally okay, completely comfortable in life, made me tear up.
Zayneb is an absolute powerhouse of a narrator – after all, one of the very first things she does is get suspended from school for standing up to her teacher. But she’s also a young teenage girl who is unfairly hated for her religion and the color of her skin, I think it’s important that we see the vulnerable side of her. It’s hard and exhausting to be angry all the time, but it’s just as exhausting to look around you and know that no matter what you do, you’re never going to have it as easy as the blissfully unaware white child coloring on the plane.
Zayneb deserves to be treated with the same concern and care that the flight attendants show the white girl her age on the same exact flight, and she knows it. But while it’s perfectly acceptable and endearing for a white child to color on a plane, Love from A to Z highlights the automatic suspicion brown folks have to endure for doing something as simple as journaling.
Like, why be different, why be Muslim, why be anything that society tells you isn’t normal if you can’t actually be it freely? Why do we have to suffer to be us?
Love from A to Z highlights the macro and microaggressions that Muslim people especially face on a daily basis. It’s hard enough when you know you’re unwelcome by strangers who know nothing about you; it’s harder still when it comes from people you want to be friends with. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and I really admire Zayneb for always standing up for what’s right despite all of that.
Overall, I think Love from A to Z has so much to offer. There’s so much for marginalized people to relate to throughout the book, and there’s so much to learn for allies as well. The heart, humor, and hopeful tone at the end of the novel have earned it a permanent place as one of my favorite books of all time.
Links for Love from A to Z
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