Three Pakistani-American teens go on a cathartic summer road trip through the Deep South.
Swarthmore sophomore Mariam wants to find the Hindu father who abandoned their family when she was 2. Umar, soon to be entering Cornell, dreads coming out to his high-achieving but homophobic family. NYU student Ghaz is locked up by her conservative parents after posing in her underwear for a billboard ad. The friends break Ghaz out of captivity and drive from New Jersey to an Islamic convention in New Orleans, investigating Mariam’s missing father along the way. Told from the perspective of observant, introspective Mariam, this fluidly written novel tackles questions with no easy answers: Can you love Allah and be true to your sexuality? Is it more objectifying to show off your body or submit to strict dress codes? What do you do when a parent abandons you? How do you cope with pervasive Islamophobia as a young Muslim American? The weightier discussions are enlivened by wild adventures at parties and the lewd and occasionally hilarious banter. While major characters are strikingly individual, too many others are painted in broad strokes, including miserly, nosy, patriarchal, and racist desis; trashy or racist Southern whites; and homophobic religious Muslims.
In the end, it’s hard to root for characters who often lack empathy for those outside their own clique, but this is an entertaining story that examines tough issues. (Fiction. 14-adult)