“Farhana’s hijab felt heavy now, heavier than it had ever been. Heaver than when her mum questioned her about it, making her feel as if she had done the wrong thing, that she was on her way to becoming an ‘extremist’. Heaver than when she found that she was no longer the centre of attention at school. Heaver than when, after the initial honeymoon period when her wearing the hijab was a novelty and a number of the girls had admired her brave decision, the hype moved elsewhere.”
Farhana and her twin brother Faraz are struggling with life-changing decisions this Ramadan season. Farhana is trying to decide whether she wants to wear the hijab full-time, even if it probably means losing the attentions a handsome classmate. Faraz is conflicted, as well: he’s so bullied at school, for being sensitive and artistic, that he can’t stand it anymore. Does he pursue his art, or join the gang that promises protection? During the holiday month, the two struggle with their feelings about religion, freedom, and doing what’s right for themselves. For Farhana, this means going against her parents’ wishes for her, and for Faraz, it means something far more dangerous. Ramadan bring change and self-awareness to both twins.
This novel is reminiscent of The Outsiders, with its devoted siblings, clear (to the point of preachiness) distinction between right and wrong, and hey-I’ll say it- the street gangs. The central conflict is one of identity: what role does faith and religion play in the lives of the twins? What role would they like it to play? Farhana’s mother is firmly against her covering herself-she doesn’t want her daughter to lose opportunities or be discriminated against. Farhana must decide whether she wishes to defy her parents and wear the hijab, or if she’d rather not make such a public declaration of her beliefs. Faraz knows what Allah says he should do, but it’s so hard to resist the brotherhood and protection of the neighborhood gang. When a tragedy threatens Farhana’s life, Faraz understands what he must do, even if it feels impossible.
The exploration of identity, religion, and the social universe of the high schoolers makes for fascinating, if not entirely original, reading. Na’ima Robert brings us a traditional coming-of-age story, but viewed through a different cultural lens. While the story occasionally veers into a cautionary tale-style narrative, the exploration of deep belief is worth reading. Robert portrays Farhana’s religious self-searching skillfully and sensitively. I’d like to know what you think of this one! It’s a relatively recent book with a very fifties’ feel to it, that’s for sure.
Robert, Na’ima. Boy vs. Girl. Francis Lincoln Books: London, 2010.
If you’re interested in reading more books like this one, you might like:
I’d like to invite you to read a blog post on this book written by someone who was displeased with this book, as she felt it didn’t realistically address teenagers’ problems, while at the same time it was upholding a “pure” Islam. Hop on over and see what Sara Yasin at Muslim Media Watch has to say about Boy vs. Girl.