A coming-of-age story of identity, culture clashes, prejudice, and loss.
Fourteen-year-old Karen lives in mostly white Boarhead West, and her classmate, Shamshad, in predominantly South Asian immigrant Boarhead East. Despite having a Pakistani father, Karen runs with a gang of xenophobic teens until the leader, Donna, targets her, drawing a cross on her forehead; this prompts Karen to explore her Muslim roots and reclaim her given name, Kiran. Shamshad hates Karen—whom she refuses to call Kiran—for being "half-caste" Pakistani and white, her complicity with the racism of her gang, and not being a proper Muslim. Shamshad torments Karen to the point of physical violence, escalating when Kiran starts wearing hijab and makes the faux pas of pairing it with a miniskirt. Violence increases when Shamshad’s friend Laila disagrees with Shamshad’s behavior and starts teaching Kiran about being Muslim and when Kiran sees Shamshad sans-hijab with Jake, a white boy from her gang. Apart from their own grudge, both Kiran’s religiously lax family and Shamshad’s stringent one appear to hate each other for a secret, off-limits reason, but their ongoing conflict will bring the truth to light. Pakistani British author Mehmood (Courageous Ali and the Heartless King, 2013, etc.) tackles intense issues, including religion and socio-economic differences, and his complex characters, who could have been better fleshed out, illustrate that no one is really “proper.”
A culturally textured look at a community that is rarely heard from. (Fiction. 14-18)