Title: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Publication date: 30 April 2019
Genre: Contemporary| Young adult
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: 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.
This book is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, and I am SO happy I found YA contemporary, which is a genre I haven’t really read in the past, because I cannot praise this book enough.
Love from A to Z is a love story between Adam and Zayneb. Both keep a journal, based on The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence. Adam focuses on marvels – the things in life that make it worth living. Zayneb focuses on the oddities – the struggles and pains of life. The two meet on a plane, and their lives change forever as their paths keep crossing.
Zayneb is a fighter. Except that’s not quite a strong enough word. She is driven and passionate and determined to right the worlds’ wrongs. As a hijab wearing Muslim, Zayneb faces a lot of discrimination and hate (all based on true events the author has experienced). Standing up to her Islamophobic teacher, Zayneb is suspended from school, one week before Spring break. So, she travels to Doha, to spend time with her Aunt Nandy. On the plane over, she meets Adam. And then she keeps meeting him, and Adam seems different to anyone she’s ever met.
Adam has just dropped out of university. He’s also just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease which killed his mum. At 11, he converted to Islam, searching for peace after his mother’s death. He’s calm and serene, yet struggling deeply with the secret of his disease, something he can’t quite tell his father just yet. He travels to Doha, where his family live, on his Spring break, knowing he won’t be returning to university. On the plane over, he meets Zayneb, a stunning woman in a bright blue hijab who happens to be holding the same journal he owns – a Marvel and Oddities.
This is a story about love and strength and justice and Islam and peace. It’s such a beautiful representation of the religion, and I feel almost humbled to have read this book. There is such a strong Muslim voice throughout, which was so fantastic to read and learn about. The growing friendship, and then love, between Adam and Zayneb felt so strong and real and natural and it was so lovely to see how religion guided their relationship. Both these characters had such strong point of views and so distinct voices, and it was interesting to see the two recognise each others flaws, and still move forward. I also thought Adam’s journey to accept his disease and seek treatment was very genuine and thoughtfully written. I rooted for both of them from the very start, their emotions and voice were so clearly written on the page, I felt every emotion with them.
The secondary characters were also very well written – I have a particular soft spot for Connor, Adam’s best friend. It was so lovely to see such a strong male friendship in a book, both of them able to be emotional and open with each other.
Whilst this novel is a love story, it also addresses subjects like Islamophobia and discrimination. I really think this book needs to be required reading for every teen, in the hope it might make people act a little different….and a lot better. The racism that is portrayed is at times subtle and at times throw it your face, and the book showed Zayneb navigating both these experiences and trying to fight against it. She was such a powerful character and her strength was very inspiring to read. There was also such a diversity with the way Islam was portrayed, and I loved seeing the different ways characters’ had come to Islam, from Adam’s conversion after his mother’s death, to Zayneb through her heritage.
Reading the author’s note at the end, S.K. Ali writes ‘I often wondered if all this would seem too incredulous to some readers’ and that really made me think – because S.K Ali is probably right. And it’s awful and people suck that they would think this book, one of the most beautiful and realistic love stories I have read, would seem too incredulous and fake. This book is so wonderful. It deals with pain and love is such an open and insightful way. So please, give this book a chance and fall in love with Adam and Zayneb like I did!
Also I am strongly keen to start my own Marvels and Oddities after reading this book!
Rach + Draco