This young adult own voices novel by debut author Sara Haghdoosti is compelling reading - smart, funny and edgy, with a feminist and political activist edge.
The protagonist is Tara, who is commencing her studies at Sydney University with her best friend Mitra. Tara's mother doesn't think she should wear her hijab - but Tara explains to us that wearing the hijab makes her feel like she has a super power, and reminds her of her sense of worth. Her dream is to get into med school and she is determined to focus on her studies and not get distracted by the boys on campus - even the super charming and attractive Alex who she meets on her first day.
Tara's had her heart broken once before and on top of this she is still grieving the loss of her much-loved Maman Noosheen (grandmother). As a result she is feeling somewhat fragile and is determined to protect her heart.
Besides, she'd much rather fall in love with the heroic guys in the fantasy novels she reads.
What Tara doesn't expect, however, is to get swept up in a racist bomb threat incident on her first day on campus. Suddenly she is in the spotlight, no longer simply the quiet girl who reads books at parties - and this kicks off a chain of events that Tara never could have imagined. She finds herself running for student council so she can take a stand against Islamophobia and racism and help make campus a safe space for everybody.
The annoyingly attractive and super charming Alex is just the person to help her - but will she have to courage not only to take a stand against Islamophobia - but to open her heart to someone new?
This novel explores themes of racism, being part of a minority group, and political activism. It shines a light on the value of having the courage to stand up for what you believe in; to grasp your grief and heartache and anger in both hands and use it as a means of empowering yourself to find your voice - even when you're afraid.
Because this really is the true meaning of courage.
The writing is engaging - with prose that zings on the page and an easy relaxed flow that makes you want to keep reading. There are pop-culture references sprinkled throughout the narrative which adds a fresh edgy vibe to this story.
I felt immediately invested in Tara who is immensely likeable and I could absolutely relate to her love of books and reading and getting lost in fantasy worlds. I imagine many young adults will also relate to Tara's growing desire to speak out and campaign for change.
I love the diversity amongst the wonderfully drawn cast of supporting characters. Tara's best friend Mitra is a fabulous character - with her sharp acerbic wit and colourful personality.
And Alex - well I must admit to developing a huge literary crush on him - he is absolutely swoon-worthy with his carelessly worn charm and the way in which he may not always know the right thing to say - but always has Tara's back.
This book provides an empowering representation of a diverse group of young adults who are not afraid to raise their voices, smash stereotypes, and campaign for change.
Published by Wakefield Press.