"The book is simultaneously a bildungsroman AND a detective story."
Review by Tylor Brand Phd | Historian of the Middle East
"The book is simultaneously a bildungsroman AND a detective story starring a smart, kinda cool, young, outwardly white American Muslim girl who is coming to terms with herself as a person while also trying to stop a white supremacist terror attack.
This character, Salma, is important for several reasons. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who defy stereotypical conceptions (from Russia, the Balkans, Africa, North Africa, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia...). Nevertheless, racially "atypical" Muslim erasure is a thing, not just in the Middle East, where the default conception of Muslim is still associated with those from the region, but also in the West, where fair skinned Muslims might blend in to society more seamlessly, but are nevertheless still members of an out-group due to their religious beliefs. Floating between communities and defying stereotypes in all directions, Muslims of both white and black backgrounds are rare as unicorns in fiction, unless they are being portrayed pejoratively as secret fifth columnists in some low rent Tom Clancy knockoff.
Salma is none of this. Her composite identity influences how she sees the world and interacts with it. She is a Muslim, she is white, but she is also a young American woman who experiences desires, anxieties and emotions that one would expect from a girl her age. She is utterly believable. Oddly, this might draw the ire of more conservative Muslim readers, who might object to portrayals of desire and other questionably pious character traits.
Nevertheless, Lumbard is not trying to write a didactic parable about the dangers of Westernization, she's writing a young adult thriller, and this one cooks. The pacing is steady enough for the reader to grow attached to the character and get a sense for her personality as the story begins. When the suspense kicks in, the reader is pulled along by Lumbard's dynamic writing and knack for narrative pacing. The storytelling is GOOD, and the ending satisfying.
I highly recommend this for young adult readers of all backgrounds (and adults in search of a great afternoon read)."
"I LOVED Salma the most. And Amir!"
~Bookish in Dubai | International Book Blogger
"I LOVED Salma the most. She's strong, smart, funny, nice and sarcastic. And AMIR! I mean maybe I shouldn't embarrass myself, but let's just say he's perfect. Also, though it might not be important to other people, it was nice to read a nod to the Amazighs. (I'm an Arab, but this is something I'm very passionate about.)
The parts that are set in UAE were super interesting to read. (I didn't know they had 15,000 butterfly in at the Butterfly Garden! I mean WOW! I Need to check this out ASAP).
Yes for representation and diverse stories!"
"From the heart."
Review by Terry | Thinker | Philanthropist | Sufi
"The title of the book is taken from a line from Rumi: “In the religion of love there are no true believers. Everyone is welcome.” The main character and the author, both American Muslims, have each clearly taken Rumi’s point to heart: the real enemy is not the Other, but the human tendency to otherize your neighbor.
Salma is a seventeen-year-old girl living in Virginia who knows what it’s like to be otherized. She has a rare chronic illness that puts people off, and she has recently lost her best friend because of bigotry. Then, after a local terrorist attack, she’s pushed down the stairs at school because she’s a Muslim.
What’s really unusual about this book is that, like its main character, it never gets preachy in the face of all this bigotry. Salma struggles throughout the book with the prejudice she finds in her own heart as well as with the prejudice all around her. Woven through the book is the image of a butterfly, which is often used as a very outward sort of symbol: transformation means simply adding wings. But Salma understands that transformation of the self is a lot more radical than that. She says, “The caterpillar turns into a stew of enzymes and literally feasts on its own body...a worm...dares to imagine a higher existence.”
Here is a book about extremism that doesn’t fall into the very evil it’s condemning: the demonization of any one group. Instead, it recognizes that the origin of the evil we see in the world is not ultimately the Other—even when the Other is obviously evil—but the human heart itself. The problem begins inside. The caterpillar’s job is not just to accomplish a little self-improvement, a little outward decoration, but to dissolve its very core in order to be transformed, from the heart out, into something beautiful.
I read this book (an advance reader’s copy) in one sitting. Salma is realistic and engaging, the pace of the writing is perfect, and the author weaves in explanations for religious and cultural traditions unobtrusively so that the book is accessible to anyone."
"Muslim girl, with budding hacking skills, has to unravel a series of tips and clues, break into houses, lose tails, and do some baby black hat hacking to save her loved ones and the rest of us from [can’t tell you!]."
Review by Laury Silvers | Muslim Writer of Sufi mysteries set in Abbasid days (THE LOVER). Retired academic and activist. LGBTQ ally.
"This is a taught young adult thriller centring around a Muslim teen, Salma, who gets set up for a crime she didn’t commit. This is no spoiler, you get this information in the opening pages. Like many young adult books, it is also a great read for adults. Honestly, I found it as tightly plotted as the best thrillers out there, only instead of our hero uncovering a conspiracy in which “Moozlems” are secretly plotting to destroy the free world, here a Muslim girl, with budding hacking skills, has to unravel a series of tips and clues, break into houses, lose tails, and do some baby black hat hacking to save her loved ones and the rest of us from [can’t tell you!]. Let’s just say, it doesn’t end up where the Islamophobes would like.
Unlike most thrillers, this book does not put the weight of the tension entirely on the plot, here the emotional life of the characters makes every wrong move every save feel like so much is at stake. It felt to me like the emotional tension of HBO’s “The Night Of,” in which a young Muslim man, an excellent student and good son, makes one bad choice that destroys his life and the life of his family. The weight that Muslims carry, making one wrong move, that looms so powerfully in the book. We just can’t make the jokes, or post links, relax publicly in the way that non-Muslims have the luxury of doing. If we do, we are immediately suspects. Islamophobia haunts the lives of Salma, her family, and friends. York doesn’t portray all non-Muslims as Islamophobes, she has a breadth of characters from loyal friends to concerned moms who stand up for her and her family, just like we find in real life. You all are out there, and we appreciate it!
And that gets me to the thing I liked the most about the book, it’s realistic depiction of Muslim life. Look, Muslims are like everyone else. Muslims observe Islam in diverse ways, every one of us makes choices that are natural for us within our families, our communities, our wider world. Salma, gasp, has a boyfriend and a really innocent, chaste, and sweet relationship that harkens back to the “good old days” when kids could grab a kiss and hold hands and that was pretty much it. It’s a lovely relationship and feels real. I’m glad York did not portray her without the desires and feelings that most kids feel. I think a lot of young adult Muslim fiction does this these days, some kids remain fully chaste and others do much more. It’s all real and I really appreciate it."