Published by Hot Key Books on January 16th, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape--perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.
Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a "suitable" Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City--and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she's only known from afar. There's the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya's last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?
Love, Hate & Other Filters reads like a more serious When Dimple Met Rishi. It is because of its comparison with the latter that I’ve decided to bump up the rating from 3.5 to 4 stars. The two books, both written by authors of Indian origin (one Hindu, one Muslim), cannot but be compared due to the way they are written and the themes they touch upon. However, if you didn’t like Dimple or simply crave more serious topics in contemporary, then you’ll probably like Love, Hate & Other Filters more.
I’m scared. I’m not just scared that somehow I’ll be next; it’s a quieter fear and more insidious. I’m scared of the next Muslim ban. I’m scared of dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for “random” questioning. I’m scared for the hijabi girls I know getting their scarves pulled off while they’re walking down the sidewalk––or worse. I’m scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always.
As with most YA contemporaries, Love, Hate & Other Filters didn’t dig as deep as I would have liked and entailed a strong focus on romance. Nonetheless, Sara Ahmed has achieved a compelling depiction of an Indian Muslim girl’s battle with parental expectations, prejudice in a country she was born and calls home, and the joy and pain of a first crush.
I am not a Muslim and thus cannot judge this book from a point of authenticity. I review diverse books to my best knowledge and as a human being who cares. However, I suggest you also check for reviews by minority readers.
Before discovering this debut on NetGalley, I had never even heard of this title. I was surprised a book with such a timely and relevant topic hadn’t stirred up the reading community. Though I had few expectations, I did hope that the author would make a strong statement. The author’s foreword had already moved me before I had even gotten to meet the characters. Let me be frank: I am tired of people generalizing the behaviour of individuals per se, and I am especially tired of narrow-minded people projecting the actions of a handful onto billions. In my native tongue, we call this mindset “putting people in the same drawer”, which means we categorise humans like objects – based on what they have in common. When radicalised individuals run vehicles into human crowds, people seem to instantly forget that killing innocents is a sin in Islamic doctrine, that a majority of Muslims lead peaceful lives, and that just as many condemn these actions as harshly as non-Muslims do. The mindset of categorising is poisonous. Last year, I was out with a Muslim friend of mine when a mosque was attacked nearby, and I realized that hate crimes weren’t just “on the news”, but right around the corner. We cannot tolerate this poison’s spreading.
Which is why I’m glad Samira Ahmed decided to write Love, Hate & Other Filters.
Samira Ahmed uses a different term, and that is “filter”. She cleverly combines the main character’s passion – film-making – with how vision works. Our vision, our judgement, can be clouded with strong emotions, be it love or hate or something else entirely. Maya Aziz lives a quiet life in the US, one of her biggest issues being badgered by her parents about law school, when she really wants to pursue film-making – and an unrequited crush. Until a terrorist attack renders her and her family a target of hatred. The title of Love, Hate & Other Filters mirrors this book’s content to a fault: Foremost, we get a love story, but it is interwoven with a storyline of prejudice in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. To be frank, I had expected the terrorist attack to occur sooner in the book, because I had read half the book before the turning point came. This allowed for more elaborate introduction of the characters and a development of the romance, which is positive in the sense that the hate Maya encounters is not what defines her, it is not how we get to know her. However, it also let the romance steer this car. I would have liked Ahmed to dedicate more of the plot to the subject of Islamophobia, as she makes some excellent points, but I bet she had even more in stock. Not only does Ahmed highlight racist reactions to the attack, but also Maya’s immediate response of fear, which is one of the most eye-opening things you might ever read. Ahmed’s words exquisitely capture the thoughts Maya, as a Muslim, develops because a handful of terrorists claim to believe in the same god she does.
A terrorist attack. Another tragedy. Is there no end? Is this how life will always be? I want to know more, but there is one piece of information I absolutely hope I don’t hear. I whisper a prayer to the universe. “Please, please let everyone be okay. Please don’t let it be a Muslim.”
My father picks up where my mother leaves off. “These terrorists are the antithesis of Islam. They’re not Muslim. Violence has not place in religion, and the terrorists are responsible for their own crimes, not the religion and not us.”
I interrupt my mother. “Too bad none of that matters. We all get painted like we’re un-American and terrorist sympathizers, no matter how loudly we condemn terrorism and say it’s un-Islamic. It’s guilt by association.”
The rest of the story reads like your average YA romantic contemporary. To my own fascination, the book managed to take a romance I would’ve normally hated and turn it into something I liked. I also have to admit that, in spite of my complaints, the premise is very open and non-deceptive about its focus on romance. It begins with a love triangle, but quickly dissolves into a clear choice, with Maya making a healthy and respectful decision – role-model love triangle here, folks. Ahmed chose an interracial romance to demonstrate mutual respect of culture, such as the love interest remembering not to bring pork to a picnic. But most importantly, I thought that Love, Hate & Other Filters was going to feature another sappy romance with a unicorns & rainbows ending, and I was surprised. Ahmed handled the romance maturely and realistically, and was, as such, very down-to-earth. She has, in a way, somewhat restored my faith in YA contemporary.
The “Indian parents” theme encountered in When Dimple Met Rishi is dominant in Ahmed’s debut as well. As with everything, this daughter-parent relationship took on a more serious note than in the aforementioned book. Ahmed questions the line between a good daughter and an obedient one, between protective parents and overbearing ones. The clash of generations, values, and beliefs is strong in this book. I also liked the important role of Maya’s aunt Hina, and how this side character is instrumentalized to call attention to the courage it must take for an Indian woman to defy traditions and stereotypes.
Overall, I’d consider Love, Hate & Other Filters an enjoyable, diverse read of utmost importance in the time of current political movements. The book was short and could’ve packed more of a punch, but the likable female lead, the down-to-earth take on young romance, and the compelling points made about Islamophobia were a pleasant surprise. I appreciate this book’s existence, and it was a good start to addressing contemporary issues, such as prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. I hope more will follow.
** I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts are my own. Quotations may be subject to change in the final copy.**