Laila Sabreen’s debut novel, You Truly Assumed, follows the lives of three Black Muslim teens in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that results in rising Islamophobia. The book largely draws from Sabreen’s own experiences with Islamophobia, especially in the push for a Muslim Ban and generally grappling with the results of the 2016 election as a Black Muslim woman (which she discusses in a YA Books Central interview).
A blog is born
You Truly Assumed centers Sabriya, Farah, and Zakat—three Black Muslim teens who come together to create an online community for young Muslims in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that leads to rising Islamophobia at a national level. Sabriya is a ballerina who aims to attend a college with a strong dance program. She has her whole summer planned out—that is, until an attack where the terrorist is assumed to be Muslim occurs nearby and rocks her whole community.
Summer plans derailed, Sabriya finds herself struggling to cope with the fallout, and she processes her thoughts and emotions through journaling. When her digital journal entry responding to the aftermath of the attack accidentally goes public, the blog called You Truly Assumed is born.
Vulnerability and virtual visibility
Zakat is an artist who dreams of attending Howard University to pursue a career in animation, hoping to bring more Black Muslim representation to the screen. Though the attack occurs in D.C. and Zakat lives in Georgia, the Muslim community in Lullwood is shaken by the rising hateful rhetoric in its aftermath. Wanting to protect her community and express herself through her art, Zakat finds solace in the online community of You Truly Assumed.
On the opposite coast, Farah feels the reverberations of anti-Muslim rhetoric in California. Farah is looking forward to a summer of working on her app aiming to help food insecurity and spending time with her boyfriend before he leaves for college. But her plans are sidetracked when her mom insists she go spend part of her summer with her biological father and stepfamily in Massachusetts.
When she comes across You Truly Assumed, Farah thinks she’s found something unique—but the web design could definitely use a little work. With Farah’s coding expertise, Zakat’s visual artistry, and Sabriya’s expressive writing, the three girls form the Admin team for the blog.
Through the online friendship the girls form, they create a space for themselves and others like them to express their fears as well as their struggle for acceptance and visibility. But when their community is threatened, the girls struggle to protect themselves and those closest to them—both online and offline.
Representation of intersectional identity
The experiences in You Truly Assumed are incredibly important and underrepresented—the intersection of Black and Muslim identity is rarely explored and largely rendered invisible in media. I appreciated the diversity of experience even among three protagonists who shared the same identity of being both Black and Muslim.
While I loved the premise of the book, the execution fell a bit flat for me. I was invested in the characters and their stories—but for a book alternating between three different POVs, their voices didn’t feel distinct enough. I found myself distinguishing characters more strongly by settings and events rather than their unique voice. The writing also seemed to lean more strongly into telling rather than characterizing and identifying through behavior and actions. As a consequence, some of the dialogue felt a bit more stilted and awkward rather than a natural conversation.
The progression of each character and their growth throughout the novel was satisfying to see. But the pacing of the novel and the plot itself felt a bit difficult to believe—such as how quickly the blog takes off, for example. Additionally, some of the conflicts felt tied off too neatly or conveniently, rather than allowing readers to more deeply consider the difficult questions surrounding the normalized nature of Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.
Worth the read
Overall, You Truly Assumed is a powerful debut that brings critical representation to an underrepresented intersectional identity. It makes for an emotional read, while still maintaining heartwarming themes such as complex family relationships, the influence of online communities, and the importance of visibility. And to top it all off, a good dose of enemies-to-lovers romance. While the book isn’t perfect, Laila Sabreen’s debut novel is a compelling work (with a stunning cover!) that is worth the read.
You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen was released on February 8, 2022.