Title: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road
Author: Sheba Karim
Review Copy: eARC received from publisher
Availability: Available on June 5, 2018
Summary: Three Pakistani-American teenagers, on a trip through the land of pork ribs, mechanical bulls, and Confederate flags. It’s going to be quite an adventure.
The summer after her freshman year of college, Mariam is looking forward to working and hanging out with her best friends: irrepressible and beautiful Ghazala, and religious but closeted Umar.
But when a scandalous photo of Ghaz appears on a billboard in Times Square, Mariam and Umar come up with a plan to rescue her from her furious parents. And what could be a better escape than a spontaneous road trip down to New Orleans?
With the heartbreaking honesty of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ mixed with with the cultural growing pains and smart snark of When Dimple Met Rishi, this wry, remarkable road-trip story is about questioning where you come from–and choosing the family that chooses you back.
Review: This book includes Islamophobia, homophobia, parental abandonment, child abuse (physical, emotional, religious), lewd acts in the presence of a child/sexual abuse, and fatphobia.
Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is a funny contemporary novel that isn’t afraid to look at the darker side of life. As many great road trip novels do, Mariam moves quickly from location to location, never lingering too long in one place or with one character, aside from the main trio, whose independent goals/storylines get lampshaded as the road trip begins. Mariam, our narrator, wants to find out more about the father who abandoned her and if his tendency to just walk away is something she has inherited; Ghaz wants to get away from her judgmental family/community and sort out where she fits in in the world; and Umar wrestles with his faith in regards to his sexuality while on the way to an Islamic convention.
Along the way, the three of them confront and discuss Islamophobia, misogyny and sexism, religion, homophobia, and a host of other issues that impact their day-to-day and road-trip lives. There are few easy answers here, and as a formerly religious woman on the ace/aro spectrum, there was a lot here that was heartbreakingly relatable and uncomfortably familiar. Unfortunately, there are some rather blatant fatphobic comments/moments in the book—including one particularly flinch-worthy “you’re too hot to get fat”—that go unchallenged. It’s disappointing since the book otherwise tackles discrimination issues head on but instead perpetuates this one.
As the narrator, Mariam is a good foil for Ghaz and Umar. Together, the trio is playful, lively, and even raunchy, but in between dragging each other to honky-tonks and teasing one another, their friendship can be quieter, more serious. It’s these more down-to-earth moments that I particularly enjoyed and that stayed with me once the book was over. Mariam’s relationship with her reserved—but involved—mother was also one of the highlights of the book for me. It was nice to see a desi daughter and mother connect so well (since it seems like most of my recently read books with desi characters have moms and daughters at odds, and Ghaz is at odds with her mother in this one). Mariam’s mother is also one of the few non-trio characters who feels fleshed out and not just a roadside attraction.
Recommendation: Get it soon. Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is a fast-paced comedy that isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects. While there are some (major) missteps and the comedy didn’t always work for me, there are also some great, authentic moments where Mariam and her friends shine. If you’re interested in road-trip books and the frank discussion of the heartbreaking parts of life, Sheba Karim has written the book for you.
“Author Spotlight: Sheba Karim” at KROS Magazine
“Hitting the Road with Sheba Karim: The YA Author Talks Islamophobia, Identity, & Family” at School Library Journal
“A Muslim YA Author on Belonging at a Tennessee Book Festival” at Literary Hub