Editor's Note: Thanks to Scholastic Trade Publishing for Providing a Copy for the Purposes of Review
“Dark curls peeked out from under the veil framing my face. For a fleeting moment, I pictured myself as a traditional bride, marrying someone my parents had chosen. But I knew I could never go through with it.”
-Sabina Khan, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Starting off 2019 with a raw, intense novel, Sabina Khan creates a contemporary masterpiece that introduces a variety of cultures and the struggles to follow your heart as well as stay within the boundaries of rules surrounding you. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali reveals the realities of many potentially controversial topics such as sexuality, arranged marriages, abuse, and homophobia through the eyes of a conservative Muslim family, further adding to the realism and ability to relate to the emotions of protagonist, Rukhsana. Though somewhat rushed in terms of plot, all the emotions that Khan wanted to express were delivered beautifully. Daring to talk about the issues most try to avoid and ignore, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali will give readers a fresh, new perspective to the world and the fight between going against your culture and family and creating your own happiness.
Living in a conservative Muslim home, Rukhsana, a Bengali teenager, has a secret which only her close friends and brother know about: she’s gay and has a girlfriend, Ariana. When she gets a full-ride scholarship to Caltech with Ariana, Rukhsana believes that everything is going well and decides to come out to her parents after she’s in California. However, when her parents catch her and Ariana together, everything begins to go downhill. Her mother sees her as disgusting and her father, a disappointment, and both refuse to acknowledge her happiness. A spontaneous trip to Bangladesh to visit her sick grandmother seems somewhat suspicious after what had happened, and Rukhsana quickly discovers that this was an excuse to find her a husband and marry her off before going to college.
During her time in Bangladesh, Rukhsana begins to embrace the Bengali culture that she missed so dearly but simultaneously, plots a way to get back home to Ariana and her old life, only to get caught repeatedly. Every time Rukhsana disobeyed her parents, they would retaliate in extreme, almost inhumane ways in order for her to comply, even locking her in a room and drugging her tea. Due to the harsh treatment she endures, Rukhsana is somewhat bitter about Ariana’s lack of understanding about their relationship and the situation surrounding her parents and religion. Along the way, however, she gains support from a potential suitor who is in a similar position as well as her grandmother, who shares a piece of her own tragic past. With the support she lacked from her parents, Rukhsana plans a “wedding” while preparing for her escape back to America. Can she succeed? What are the possible consequences? Will things ever be the same between her parents, family, and even Ariana?
Khan depicts so much raw emotion throughout the story which makes this one of the most tragic, eye-opening, and even somewhat traumatic novels I have ever read. The degree to which Rukhsana’s parents were willing to go in order to “fix” her were almost too cruel to believe, but undoubtedly true, giving me a new perspective to why so many people refuse to come out with their sexuality in fear of the reaction from those closest to them. Despite such well-written emotions, the plot seemed somewhat rushed and abrupt at points as when certain startling events occurred, the emotions rushed all at once, but then, the instance was never addressed again. Nonetheless, it is obvious that there was a lot of thought put into creating the such a realistic plot.
Without a doubt, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is an inspiring, devastating novel that explores the consequences of going against everything you have been taught in order to be happy and heal from the scars of judgement that will never go away. While there are aspects of details and plot that could be improved, the overall rawness to the story gives the novel life and will give readers something to think about. Through the trials Rukhsana endures, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is Sabina Khan’s memorable debut novel that will not disappoint readers.
The Love and Lies of Rukshana Ali is an HBB Reviews Editor's Choice!
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali has always been fascinated by the universe around her and the laws of physics that keep everything in order. But her life at home isn't so absolute.
Unable to come out to her conservative Muslim parents, she keeps that part of her identity hidden. And that means keeping her girlfriend, Ariana, a secret from them too. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life at home and a fresh start at Caltech in the fall. But when Rukhsana's mom catches her and Ariana together, her future begins to collapse around her.
Devastated and confused, Rukhsana's parents whisk her off to stay with their extended family in Bangladesh where, along with the loving arms of her grandmother and cousins, she is met with a world of arranged marriages, religious tradition, and intolerance. Fortunately, Rukhsana finds allies along the way and, through reading her grandmother's old diary, finds the courage to take control of her future and fight for her love.
A gritty novel that doesn't shy away from the darkest corners of ourselves, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali provides a timely and achingly honest portrait of what it's like to grow up feeling unwelcome in your own culture and proves that love, above all else, has the power to change the world.