May 23, 2019

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Written by Sabina Khan
336 pp.
Ages 14+
January 2019

Rukhsana Ali's parents have three rules by which she, a Muslim Bengali, must abide: No parties, no shorts, no boys. The hardest rule to keep is the parties one because she's seventeen, living in Seattle and set to graduate in a couple of months and she's in love with Ariana. Rukhsana is hopeful that once she turns 18 and heads to Caltech, where she has a full scholarship, she'll be able to come out to her parents and live and love as she chooses.

But her parents have a different idea for her life.
It is our job is to make all the important decisions. That way we can make sure there is nothing for anyone to gossip about. (pg. 17)
And one of those ideas is that she must learn how to be a good wife and marry a Bengali man. In fact, there is talk of potential matches, even with the handsome Irfan who admits his love for Sara, a white girl, of whom his parents would definitely not approve. Learning that Rukhsana is gay, the two are determined to support each other in their love choices. But then Rukhsana's mom catches her daughter and Ariana kissing. Soon Rukhsana and her parents are leaving for Bangladesh, ostensibly because her beloved grandmother is at death's door. Of course, Nani is far healthier than announced and Rukhsana's parents delay their return and begin to welcome potential suitors and their families. When the teen realizes what they are doing, going so far as to lock her in a room and get a jinn-catcher to relieve her of the demons that inhabit her body, Rukhsana is determined to find a way to escape. With the support of Nani, who offers courage via her own diary of pain within a loveless marriage, as well as that of her cousin Shaila and a potential groom Sohail, Rukhsana makes a plan to return to Ariana. But will she have a girlfriend waiting for her when both of their parents have been discouraging their relationship? Can their love survive the distance, the families and the cultural divide?

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is packed with the teen angst of intense love, parental expectations and choosing what is best for oneself. But author Sabina Khan goes beyond that common YA theme and embeds it in a culture and religion that seem to pose obstacles rather than support development. The teen's parents only see her successes as matrimonial currency, continuing to favour her brother Aamir. The community talks of LGBTQ individuals as abnormal and disgusting, even inspiring violence against them. How is Rukhsana to balance being herself with that of being an obedient daughter of Muslim parents? But Sabina Khan has Rukhsana maneuvering her way through, advancing herself to a life with love and without lies. Like the front and back book covers of The Love and and Lives of Rukhsana Ali demonstrates, Rukhsana can be both but she must and does decide who she will be and accept both the burdens and blessings of each.

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