Title: The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Author: Sabina Khan
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Review copy: ARC via publisher & final copy via public library
Availability: On shelves now
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that impossible to do. She rolls her eyes when they blatantly favor her brother and saves 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. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.
Her parents are devastated and decide to whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Through reading her grandmother’s old diary, Rukhsana gains some much-needed perspective and realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love without losing the connection to her family as a consequence.
With a welcome mix of humor, heart, and high-stakes drama, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali provides a timely and honest portrait of what it’s like to grow up feeling unwelcome in your own culture.
Review: This story pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. Maybe not so important, but the descriptions of food were fabulous and had me wishing I could get a bite. On a more serious note, I really enjoyed getting to know Rukhsana and her family and the sibling relationship was particularly awesome. They do tease each other, but her little brother is devoted and willing to stand up for his sister. Rukhsana’s relationships with her cousin and grandmother were also highlights of the book. And while her parents have more conservative views than their children, anyone can see there’s a lot of love within this family. In all they do, they are trying to give her the best life possible. Things only go awry when their idea of what “best” looks like clashes with hers.
Throughout the book, Rukhsana grapples with balancing parts of her life. Her friends and her girlfriend Ariana don’t always fully understand the dynamics of her family and culture. Being a secret girlfriend is also really getting old for Ariana. On the flip side, her parents are oblivious of the balancing act she has going. There are huge parts of her life she is hiding from them. When these lies and omissions are exposed, life gets extremely complicated. Rukhsana has to decide what she’s going to hold onto and protect and what she has to abandon.
The book went places I didn’t expect though — and they were particularly dark places. While the publisher’s summary didn’t include a trigger or content warning, I feel that would be helpful for many potential readers. Homophobia along with physical and sexual violence are likely things some people would want to know beforehand. The story is definitely compelling, but may not be comfortable for unsuspecting readers.
The book is rich with descriptions of clothing, customs, and food, and brings you right into Rukhsana’s world. Readers also see that no matter the identities we have – Muslim, Bangladeshi American, Lesbian, or any other, experiences vary greatly especially as these identities overlap. There are so many ways to move through the world. The pacing did seem a little off with dramatic turns followed by a pretty quick resolution, but there is much to appreciate in the writing and I look forward to more stories from this author.
Recommendation: Get it sometime if you enjoyed Written in the Stars or are fond of contemporary realistic fiction. This is a page-turner dealing with identity, family, and much more.
Author video describing the book