Following a tumultuous few years for immigrants around the world, this year’s #MuslimWomensDay campaign has centered around Muslim women talking back to immigrant life.
So it seems fitting that you should grab a cup of hot cocoa, and dive deep into these books that invite their readers into the messy, complex, and beautiful realities of immigrants as they endeavor to settle in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people, and attempt to navigate foreign customs and cultures in the hopes of a better life.
These tales are sure to thrill, so don’t miss them:
1. Does my Head Look Big in This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah
Teenage Australian-Palestinian, Amal, makes the decision to embrace her faith fully by wearing the hijab. This novel highlights both the challenges and rewards Amal faces as a first generation openly Muslim Australian. It follows her through the pitfalls of regular high school life and what it can mean to have an additional layer of variance from your peers. I read this book in middle school, a few years before I started wearing the hijab myself, and it gave me a sense of comfort seeing my own thoughts and fears reflected in Amal.
2. Americanah By: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is the story of a young woman, Ifemelu, who travels to the United States from Nigeria for school. She finds herself alone in a new environment which she quickly observes to be laced in racial conflict, whilst she remains largely ignored or seen differently by those around her. As an outsider, she both experiences the intensity of racial tension personally and witnesses its effect on those who have been socialized to accept it. The plot follows her through a growing understanding of young American life, and what that translates to on both ends of a varying racial spectrum. This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine, an Ethiopian immigrant who has spent much of her life traveling between two worlds. She identified with Adichie’s narrative and saw it as a reflection of her own musings on American life.
3. The Year of the Dog By: Grace Lin
Grace Lin offers a fictionalized personal account of her experience as a first generation Chinese-American. She learns how to balance her family with her growing life at school, and what it really means to be her. As the novel progresses, she grows into herself and finds a best friend to share her everyday reflections on the life she leads. It’s a lighthearted story of a young girl balancing two worlds in a way she doesn’t necessarily understand completely quite yet. I read this when I was a kid and it brought me unparalleled joy to see aspects of my own life personalized in Grace.
4. The Book of Unknown Americans By: Cristina Henriquez
Fair warning: this one’s pretty sad. It follows a family of three, who emigrate from Mexico following their daughter’s severe head injury. In America, they hope to provide her with a means of recovering safely. However, as they settle in Delaware, they find themselves unable to fully establish a life as they face many tribulations in their assimilation into American life.
5. The Translator By: Leila Aboulela
Sammar is a Muslim widow from Sudan living in Scotland. Grief-stricken following the death of her husband and lonely in her new environment, she finds herself lost in the world that is now hers. She slowly regains herself as she begins to forge a relationship with a professor at the university where she is employed as a department translator. This novel is a parallel view into two very different cultures and how they crash suddenly within Sammar’s understanding of herself and the life she leads.
6. American Dervish By: Ayad Akhtar
Hayat Shah is a young Pakistani-American growing up in American suburbia. His parents are secular Muslims, leaving Hayat largely distant from the religion in his formative years. However, when his mother’s best friend Mina and her son come to live with them, Hayat adopts a close relationship with both Mina and Islam. He becomes intent on the idea of becoming a ‘Hafiz,’ an individual who has memorized the entire Quran. As Mina’s life falls into disarray following a series of unfortunate events involving her newfound love for a Jewish man, Hayat loses his interest in the Quran for many years. The novel’s end is satisfying in its own right, and completes both Hayat’s development as a Muslim American, and Mina’s growth within an American environment.