Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

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Book Review: A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellmann

A Bitter VeilA Bitter Veil
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Allium Press of Chicago, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-9831938-1-4
Trade Paperback

Enter the Muslim world of Khomeini’s Iran. Good luck leaving. Especially if you are married to an Iranian male. And are American. A Bitter Veil takes you inside a country on the brink of cultural changes. Where a religion has decreed Western civilization and especially America, to be evil. Where corruption and power rules the everyday life of every person.

In 1977, Anna Schroder is attending college in Chicago when she meets an engineering student, Nouri Samedi, who hails from Iran. Friendship turns to love and passion and eventually marriage. They return to Nouri’s homeland to continue their life together. However, storm clouds have been gathering. Iran’s leader, the Shah, is a tyrant, and is slowly being forced out. When the Shah leaves and Khomeini assumes control, things from bad to worse. Anna’s life heads in a downward spiral as Islamic fascism slowly becomes the norm. She watches in horror as Nouri slowly succumbs to the new regime and her marriage, her existence is in peril. When Nouri is murdered and Anna is imprisoned, her only hope is to somehow escape and find the real killer.

This is not so much a murder mystery, although there is that aspect, but more of a spotlight on how a culture changed in the late seventies and early eighties. This includes actual events, such as the taking of the American Embassy by terrorists. The cultural shock is probably not atypical for those women who have married into Muslim life and found themselves trapped. Even though I knew what was going to happen in regards to Anna’s life in Iran I felt compelled to read further to see just how bad it could get. Hellmann did her homework to present some powerful writing. Everyone can learn a lesson from A Bitter Veil.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.