An epigraph at the beginning of Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali warns that it will be a love story. And it is. At its heart, the book is also a triumphant, feel-good and ultimately hopeful story about two teenagers coming to terms with the marvels and oddities of life and themselves.
When we first meet Zayneb, she’s about to be suspended for allegedly threatening her racist teacher–a man who belittles and berates her in front of the class, spewing his Islamophobic vitriol around the classroom. When a note passed from her friend reminds her about their behind-the-scenes plan to take him down is intercepted, Zayneb is suspended. Her parents implore her to let her anger go and fly under the radar, keeping her head down despite her teacher’s hate. She’s sent to Doha in Qatar a week early than her original spring break plan to spend time with her Aunt Nandy, a teacher at the local international school. She must contend with the fallout her suspension has caused–two of her closest friends got in trouble as well. Zayneb vows to try to be a nicer version of herself, letting things go in a way she hasn’t been able to before.
When we first meet Adam, he’s on his way home to Doha from London where he attends university. He’s burdened by the secret he’s kept since October from his dad and little sister: his choice to drop out of school. Clinging to his pragmatic and positive attitude, he’s turned to making and building things as a way to cope with a tough diagnosis. On the plane to Doha, Adam realizes that Zayneb–the cute girl with the vibrant blue hijab he’s instantly drawn to– also has a Marvels and Oddities journal–the very thing that he uses to chronicle his ups and downs and help him cope with everything going on. Zayneb also finds herself drawn to Adam and not only because of his good looks–he offers her an Islamic greeting on the plane.
The book follows Zayneb and Adam’s journal entries–both the marvels and oddities of their time together and as they come to terms with the various parts of their lives that are tangled up.
What I love so much about this book is how hopeful it is. Zayneb and Adam are both battling adverse circumstances throughout the book–Adam with his MS and Zayneb with the cause and effect of the the blatant racism she’s had to put up with at home and even in Doha. These circumstances often throw them off balance, and it is only by connecting with the other person that they begin to get a different perspective and also grow stronger. Adam learns that the prognosis of his MS doesn’t have to be as bleak as he once thought, and Zayneb learns that she doesn’t have to be ashamed of her anger and passion to fight injustice and racism.
This book was refreshing because of the adults in Adam and Zayneb’s lives–the ones who were supportive. I can count on one hand the number of YA books that contained supportive, well-written adults. This isn’t a critique; it’s just that most YA books are focused on the teens the stories are about rather than the adults that are around them. So I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a book with adults that felt authentic. I loved reading about Zayneb’s Aunt Nandy and her life. I wanted to read more about this woman who taught at an International School in Qatar. Adam’s father was also supportive and a wonderful character to read, despite his grief during the anniversary of his wife’s death.
And it’s really wonderful to read a book set outside of the US! I loved the in-depth look that readers are treated to of Qatar’s capital and through S.K. Ali’s wonderful descriptions, I feel like I’ve visited Doha. Readers unfamiliar with Islamic culture will also find the book unapologetically bursting with it. I loved reading about how proud of their religion both Zayneb and Adam were, and I think for readers who are both Muslim and of other faiths, this is necessary and important.
Overall, this book was the perfect spring break and one that should skyrocket to the top of your TBR. Enjoy this one on vacation or by the pool and then give it to a friend, it’s one that should be shared,