ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL by Nadine Jolie Courtney is a remarkable young adult novel that centers on a girl exploring her identity as a Muslim in the midst of family, peer, and religious influences. The first-person narrative allows us to follow Allie Abraham in her questions, hopes, vulnerabilities, doubts, frustrations, and joys regarding following Islam and being Muslim enough. Many readers will relate to the struggles depicted, regardless of their personal identities. However, young American Muslims will find particular solidarity in the events and personal journey of the main character.
Throughout the novel, Allie, a high school sophomore is confronted with both her privilege as a Muslim who can “pass” as a white American assumed to be non-Muslim, and the constant tension of modern-day Islamophobia and hiding – or not publicly acknowledging – her family’s background. The tenderness with which Allie’s internal ponderings are written shares the kind of implicit support and acceptance that every teenager deserves and needs. That empathy extends to other characters as they are given second chances, held in confidence, and listened to despite disagreements.
Readers unfamiliar with Muslim traditions will learn a lot, especially in the fantastic scenes that include the all girls Quran study group. The discussions and different points-of-view within the group are enlightening even as they highlight the different aspects and opinions of what makes up a “good Muslim.” Disagreements are talked through, and ultimately offering support is more important than winning an argument. Traditions including prayers, choice of dress, and honoring Ramadan are all described in a natural way within the story. In addition, scenes that show bigoted and condescending reactions to Muslims will hopefully open up empathy for all who endure micro-aggressions and hate-filled behavior based on their identity.
Unlike many YA novels involving family traditions and rules, All-American Muslim Girl involves a teenager looking for more religious instruction, not fewer restrictions, within a secular Muslim family. In fact, fear of her father’s anger that she has a Quran and has begun to pray keep Allie from sharing her curiosity and desire to connect with Islam with her family. Surrounding her personal journey is new love with a non-Muslim boy, an ailing Grandmother with whom Allie can’t fully communicate because she doesn’t fluently know Arabic, current events that affect Muslims, and various peers that both support and challenge Allie’s identity. The on-going narrative filtered through Allie feels authentic, honest, and utterly powerful.
All-American Muslim Girl is readable, challenging, moving, and informative. Nadine Jolie Courtney has done us all a service in her ability to share such a profoundly affecting story with finesse and a direct vision of being able to define oneself on one’s own terms. Highly recommended.