Title: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Ali
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: 29 January 2019
Genre: Contemporary | Young adult
Page count: 336 pages
Synopsis: 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?
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is an emotionally hard hitting story about a queer Muslim girl and arranged marriage, an excellent look at how different cultures and generations’ views can entwine and change.
First of all, a huge shout out to the strong intersectional rep in this book – can all books please be like this? As well as Rukhsana herself, there are lots of other queer, Muslim characters which was so great to see, both in America and in Bangladesh. Rukhsana is in her last year of high school and she’s recently been accepted to Caltech on scholarship, but her parents don’t put as much importance on her studies, and instead try to push her into marriage. When Rukhsana’s mother catches her kissing her girlfriend, Ariana, they are devastated and disgusted. They accompany Rukhsana to Bangladesh, to visit her sick grandmother – but as it turns out, they have other plans for Rukhsana in Bangladesh. Thus ensues a lot of emotionally difficult scenes as Rukhsana is forced into a life she really doesn’t want, but yet doesn’t know how to fight as she doesn’t want to let her family down.
I thought it was particularly interesting reading about Rukhsana’s family dynamics – her extremely close friendship with her brother, her accepting and loving grandmother, and then her more difficult parents whom she loves and wants to please, but she just can’t accept what they want for her. I also really liked the support Rukhsana had from other members of the Bengali community. Rukhsana, as well as her parents, definitely both grew across the story. Her parents, in their opinons and behaviour regarding the future path for Rukhsana, and Rukhsana herself in her assumptions about the Bengali community. Whilst at the beginning, Rukhsana found herself doubting that others in the Bengali community would understand or support her, she found herself with so many allies like Irfan and Shaila and began to realise that she wasn’t alone. Her relationship with her grandmother was especially touching, and it was really difficult to read the diary scenes and see what her grandmother lived through.
I wasn’t hugely invested in the central romance – Ariana + Rukhsana. Ariana herself really just seems like a complete arse so I struggled to root for them. Ariana doesn’t understand what Rukhsana is going through, refuses to listen and believe her when she talks about her family, and so I really wished Rukhsana had fought more for herself rather than for Ariana, someone who I didn’t feel really cared enough for her. In saying that, I think it was really interesting to see the two different cultures of Ariana and Rukhsana interact. Ariana with her strong American background doesn’t understand or acknowledge the close familial relationships in the Bengali communities (and so doesn’t understand why Rukhsana won’t just leave); and Rukhsana faces discrimination from Ariana’s family (and Ariana herself is pushed to end their relationship) but they still fight for their love. So whilst I wish Ariana had been a better person so I could root for their relationship, I think the interaction of their cultures was extremely important to see.
I also really wasn’t a fan of Rukhsana and Ariana’s social group, for the same reasons as above – they weren’t willing to listen or believe Rukhsana at all which was so awful. But, there is a FANTASTIC fierce scene where Rukhsana stands up to them which is awesome.
I do wish we’d seen some more of other characters rather than the focus on Ariana. I really liked Irfan, someone in the US who Rukhsana’s family try to match her with. Shaila was also really fantastic. She is Rukhsana’s cousin, who lives in Bangladesh and so is faced with the same issues and concerns about marriage as Rukhsana is but in a different country. Aamir, Rukhsana’s brother also got very little focus, which was a real shame as they have such a lovely and close relationship.
This book deals with a very difficult subject, and at times very emotionally does so. There are so many fantastic characters who I just wish there’d been more of a focus on. But there are some great dynamics and it was really interesting to read about the pull different cultures had on Rukhsana.
Rach + Draco