In Hill’s debut novel, a Christian girl and a Muslim boy face some exceptional obstacles on their road to high school romance.
When Dr. Najib Al-Deayea decides to move his family from a small Michigan city to a town 90 minutes from Atlanta, his young son Aazim accepts the change philosophically (“He believed that his situation must be Allah’s way of testing him and shaping him into a stronger man”). He’s an outcast at first, until he meets Dee, the daughter of his father’s new partner and as devout a Christian as Aazim is a Muslim. The two are wary of each other, but as the bullying Aazim experiences grows more severe, Dee is pushed by both her outraged father and her own developing conscience to stand up for Aazim. She begins to like him. The two are equally passionate students in Bible class, but it’s only when Aazim teaches himself the new language of Facebook (and begins to condition his body with martial arts) that the two really connect and fall for each other. “This will not be easy,” Aazim tells Dee, but although they meet with some good-natured resistance from their parents, the real problem isn’t domestic; it’s divine. Just as their relationship is beginning to blossom, the rapture happens. Dee is assumed into heaven, and Aazim is left back on Earth. Hill’s narrative, which had to this point been extremely sensitive and gentle, becomes at once much funnier and much more serious: Dee discovers that she can still keep in touch with Aazim through Facebook (hilariously, the first thing she does when she finds herself in heaven is reach for her cellphone), and in the book’s second half, the two exchange increasingly agonized messages that bring their one love and their two faiths into direct conflict, since as long as Aazim remains true to Islam, they can never be together. The book’s ending is starkly fundamentalist Christian in its assertions, and it won’t be just Muslim readers who might find the story’s final twist shocking or even offensive.
An unsettling and ultimately memorable modern-day hybrid of religious fiction and Romeo and Juliet.