Author: Nadiya Hussain
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Diversity Element: Muslim, Bangladeshi characters
Published: 12th January 2017
*I received this book from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review*
The four Amir sisters – Fatima, Farah, Bubblee and Mae – are the only young Muslims in the quaint English village of Wyvernage.
On the outside, despite not quite fitting in with their neighbours, the Amirs are happy. But on the inside, each sister is secretly struggling.
Fatima is trying to find out who she really is – and after fifteen attempts, finally pass her driving test. Farah is happy being a wife but longs to be a mother. Bubblee is determined to be an artist in London, away from family tradition, and Mae is coping with burgeoning Youtube stardom.
Yet when family tragedy strikes, it brings the Amir sisters closer together and forces them to learn more about life, love, faith and each other than they ever thought possible.
If you are not one for long dreary book reports, and want a quick summary of what I think of this book then here it is: I WANT MORE OF THESE BOOKS!!
There’s such a serious demand for contemporary books with Muslim characters, and the fact that more of these stories are being published is just fantastic news. Well, for me at least!
I’m a young Muslim woman from South Africa, and I come from a family who holds the values of Islam in the highest regard. It’s our way of life. However, this never held me back in any way. I was always encouraged to ask questions and to pursue my dreams, I never felt like I was at a disadvantage because I’m a woman. In fact, now that I look back, it seems as though I was pushed to empower myself and be independent, far more than what my brother was. So when these topics started coming up, and people spoke about how Muslim women are oppressed; it was foreign to me and it was so shocking to think that people actually thought this way.
That being said, I feel that it’s important to recognize that it is happening and I cannot turn a blind eye on this matter just because I never experienced it firsthand. I liked that Nadiya Hussain explored these issues in a contemporary fiction genre book. Focusing on these sisters who are living normal lives in a small town, was just lovely. Yes they’re dealing with their own problems, but that’s the point – for the reader to understand that they are just ordinary people who face ordinary problems when they’re not dealing with extraordinary difficult situations like so many of us do. So yes, it’s annoying when people think that the hijab = oppression; but it’s happening in the world, and it’s important that we’re aware of these issues so that we can do something about it. So that those restraints can be broken and women who are feeling trapped are encouraged to go out and find what it is that they want to do with their lives – to give them a voice. I feel like this book does it perfectly.
The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters is a 384 page, fast paced book, which makes it seem as though everything is happening in a very short span of time; sometimes taking place all at once. I thought this could’ve been done better because at certain points there was just way too much happening. But I suppose that’s the point? It’s something that I could relate to in my own life. When something bad happens, the rest of the world doesn’t stand still so that you can deal with what’s difficult before handing you the next sh*t storm to deal with. Other problems pop up in the mean time and you need to deal with it all. The story reminds the reader that life goes on and it needs to be lived, and it achieves this with some pretty dramatic and incredibly tough circumstances.
Even though the book focuses on some heavy issues, it still remained light and funny. I never felt like I was dragged into a deep dark hole that I needed to get out of. I went on this journey with the sisters and always feel like everything is going to be okay.
Another thing I enjoyed about this book was that we get to see how different generations within the same family deals with certain situations. We get to see that they are all completely different from one another. They are all facing their own problems. We get a little glimpse of Bangladesh as well and then we see how much the parents have changed since they moved to the West. We see how they’ve adapted to their new environment and how they’ve needed to let little things slide that they never would’ve budged on before. But at the same time we see how they cling to certain customs and just how important it is for them to maintain their values. They don’t want their children to lose their roots, which I felt was a deeply important point to take note of.
And then on the opposite side of the spectrum, we learn how the children are struggling to fit in and find a balance in their lives while doing their best to uphold the principles they grew up with. Even though it gets annoying when the parents nag and there’s moments where it feels like they’re stiffing the children, you understand where each party is coming from and it was interesting to see how everyone coped with it. This gave me a fresh perspective on things, and now that I understand it better I am definitely more aware of how this impacts the lives of those who has given up everything they’ve ever known in order to find a better life for their families.
What made the story really interesting for me was that we gain so much insight since the book is written from all the sisters’ perspectives. Each sister is so different: Fatima is lonely and withdrawn, Bubblee is headstrong, ambitious and fiercely independent, Farah (who happens to be Bubblee’s twin) is more reserved and lives her life serving others, while Mae who is the youngest of the four, speaks her mind and doesn’t seem to let anything get her down. The contrast in personalities gave the story a whole new dimension, and I couldn’t help but empathise with each of them. The book made me feel as if I were part of the family.
Reading from each POV, I think it became clear to me that my favourite out of the four sisters was Fatima. Not because of her character’s traits or personality – because she frustrated me a lot of the time – but she was the one who underwent the most change. A lot happened with her in this book and it was interesting to see how these changes chipped away the cocoon she’s built around herself. During the times when my heart wasn’t breaking for her, I really enjoyed reading about Fatima’s development because the way she grew as a character was so uplifting. If there was one character I felt a deep sense of pride for, then it would be her.
I must say, I was worried about the ending of his book because in my experience, a book like this can easily fall apart if the ending isn’t absolutely perfect. As it turns out, I was worried for nothing, because the ending of this book was lovely! It kind of ended on a ‘new beginning’ and it gave me hope for the future, making me feel like anything is possible. It inspires and encourages; and it’s the perfect ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel. I thought it was the perfect touch to a story that pulled me in from the very beginning. I’ll probably be reading anything that Nadiya Hussain writes in the future!
I gave this book 3/5 stars on Goodreads.