Blog Tour: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali


Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: ARC, from the publisher
Status: standalone

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour. This does not affect the content of my review.


Summary:
From William C. Morris Award Finalist S.K. Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is part The Sun Is Also a Star mixed with Anna and the French Kiss, following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Review:
Wow wow wow wow wow. You guys, this book is like, SO good. It's got a great romance storyline that will have you swooning, but there's a lot of in-depth character building for both Zayneb and Adam that will have you rooting for them as individuals simultaneously as you root for them as a couple.

Zayneb is an outspoken angry girl focused on righting the many injustices in our world, be they smaller microaggressions like someone complaining that her swimwear isn't pool appropriate or greater grievances such as her grandmother's death and her teacher's outright racism and Islamaphobia in the classroom. I think there are a lot of people who will criticize this character for her attitude, for the tone she uses to combat hatred and ignorance, and I think that those critics should shut up and learn from this character. Yes, Zayneb is angry, but who wouldn't be angry when faced with insults and personal slights from everyone from outright strangers to authority figures? This girl is fiery and passionate, and the kind of person who can inspire great change. Honestly, most of us could do with being a little more angry at the injustices of the world. And certainly we could do without policing the emotions of teenage girls. 

In contrast, Adam lives at a slower, more peaceful pace. I would describe his life from the outside as tranquil. But inside, Adam is full of turmoil from his recent diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. One thing I loved about Adam was that although he was keeping secrets from his family, he made up his mind and took action, rather than leave his life in limbo.  He's one of those characters who thinks and thinks and then after thinking about the consequences, goes full steam ahead in pursuit of his choice.
He's a really solid guy, and I appreciate his conscientiousness. Just as Zayneb is fire and fury and fervor, Adam is calm and deliberate, which I also think many of us could emulate. 

The whole book is framed with these two very different characters searching for the marvels and oddities, the positive and negative and everything in between, in life. It is interesting to me how they're portrayed as different, yet in every scene with the two of them early on in the book, all you can see is the incredible chemistry between them. The way dialog flows so smoothly. And sure, that can happen before you know the deeper parts of a person, the flaws and the scars and the baggage. But there's just something really special between these two. I think the comparison to The Sun is Also a Star is pretty apt because these two are a lot like Natasha and Daniel, finding commonalities and seriously, THAT CHEMISTRY. And yes, this is a romance so there is a black moment when these two find themselves clashing over opposing viewpoints. HOO BOY, is it a clash. But I'm really impressed with the way Ali writes that seeking peace and seeking justice don't have to be mutually exclusive. 

Not only is this an engaging and interesting novel, I absolutely recommend Love from A to Z as a how-to manual for advocating for oneself or as an ally in the face of prejudice. Both Zayneb and her Auntie Nandy (who I love!) exhibit the way to call out various aggressions such as a girl talking about wearing a feathered headdress to Coachella or the aforementioned pool incident. I think it's important these moments exist in novels to show examples of confronting various prejudices to learn what they look like, the language to say, how to react. Auntie Nandy was such a comforting figure in this story for both Zayneb and Adam, but I loved seeing her steel backbone and resolve. I love how she supported Zayneb in the face of racism from the employees and residents of her apartment building AND provided sage advice as someone who has been doing it for many many years.

Love from A to Z is a MARVELous (lol) book, full of wonder and promise. It explores the best and worst that life has to offer (and shows how it's possible for things to be both), has a lovely romance (I just wanna say, as a lover of romance books, I love kissing. But this book made me excited about the romance WITHOUT kissing), and the very best family characters. It's a must read!

About the Author:
S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C. Morris award. Her debut novel won critical acclaim for its groundbreaking portrayal of an unapologetic Muslim-American teen’s life. Saints and Misfits was featured on several Best Teen Novels of 2017 lists including from Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the New York Public Library. It was also a CBC Canada Reads 2018 longlist title and featured in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, NBC News, Huffington Post, Salon, Bustle, CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, The Social, The Morning Show and other North American media.

She holds a degree in Creative Writing from York University and has written about Muslim life for various outlets, including the Toronto Star and NBC News. Her second novel, Love From A to Z, a story about finding love in the time of Islamophobia, will be published in May of 2019 by Simon & Schuster. She has also co-authored a picture book coming out next year about first day hijabs, published by Little, Brown and Company. S. K. Ali lives in Toronto with her family and a very vocal cat named Yeti.

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