Muslims in YA | Great Books

From romance to fantasy to memoir, these books represent a rich scope of experiences.

Literature has always had the power to uplift, providing communities the opportunity to see themselves and offering outsiders windows into the lives of others. Given recent occurrences of Islamophobia throughout the United States and across the world, the increasing representation of Muslims in young adult literature and adult literature with YA appeal is both welcome and needed to express nuance and create empathy for a nonmonolithic group whose stories are often oversimplified. These recent titles, mostly #OwnVoices books, reflect a diversity of Muslim protagonists (or those perceived as Muslim); their individual and collective experiences, cultures, and traditions; and their expression of Islam.

Looking at major publications over the last two years (not including self-published books or those from Islamic publishers), we found gaps in the representation of Muslims who are Black or African American, as well as Black immigrants and those descended from immigrants. The two titles here that center on African American Muslims are autobiographies of prominent athletes: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ibtihaj Muhammad. Though both are excellent selections, we hope that more books about Muslims will be published and that Muslims and other writers from marginalized groups will continue to raise their voices.

ABDUL-JABBAR, Kareem & Raymond Obstfeld. Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court. 304p. Little, Brown. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316555388.
Gr 7 Up–In this young readers edition, legendary basketball star Abdul-Jabbar, born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., reflects on his life from childhood to school to the basketball court, shedding light on the experiences and people who helped shape him into the man he became and discussing how his search for peace, meaning, and fulfillment led him to Islam.

AHMED, Samira. Internment. 400p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316522694.
Gr 8 Up–“Exclusion laws” imposed by an Islamophobic president have upended the lives of Muslims across the United States, including Layla’s. Removed from school for her own good by her parents, Layla circumvents state-imposed curfews to see her boyfriend, David, who is Jewish. When she and her family and other Muslims are rounded up by the authorities and forced to live in an internment camp in the California desert, Layla learns what it means to survive—and to fight. This cautionary tale for our times draws parallels between the situation Muslim Americans face today and the horrors of the Japanese American internment.

ALI, S.K. Love from A to Z. 352p. S. & S./Salaam Reads. May 2019. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9781534442726.
Gr 8 Up–Two Muslim students, Zayneb and Adam, meet during their spring break in Doha, Qatar. High schooler Zayneb lives in Indiana and has an Islamophobic teacher. Adam, who attends college in London, stopped going to classes after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Both write their thoughts in journals divided into sections on Marvels and Oddities. This is a poignant love story between two practicing Muslims who stay true to themselves and to their beliefs.

ALKAF, Hanna. The Weight of Our Sky. 288p. S. & S./Salaam Reads. Feb. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534426085.
Gr 8 Up–In this novel set during the Malaysian race riots of 1969, 16-year-old Melati struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, believing that she is being tormented by a djinn whose threats against her mother can be appeased only with counting rituals. When violence breaks out among ethnic Malays, Chinese, and Indians in Kuala Lumpur, Melati worries that her fears will manifest. A powerful and raw exploration of mental illness, Malaysian history, and rising above prejudice and hate.

AZAD, Nafiza. The Candle and the Flame. 416p. Scholastic. May 2019. Tr $18.99. 9781338306040.
Gr 7 Up–Fatima is human but carries the fire of the djinn within her. She lives in Noor, a vibrant, multicultural city along the Silk Road that has risen from the ashes of destruction by the Shayateen but faces threats to its existence. Azad seamlessly blends Islamic concepts and Middle Eastern mythology with a cornucopia of other traditions to create a magical musing on identity, community, friendship, love, and loss.

DAUD, Somaiya. Mirage. 320p. Flatiron. Aug. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250126429.
Gr 8 Up–Amani is kidnapped from her village and groomed to be a stand-in for the hated crown princess Maram vak Mathis. Maram is the daughter of the leader of the Vathek imperialists, who are occupying Cadiz, a moon of Andala, Amani’s planet. Daud’s intricate sci-fi world is reminiscent of Morocco, and she addresses real-world issues of colonialism and loss of culture while giving readers a strong, rebellious protagonist to root for and a steamy romance.

FAIZAL, Hafsah. We Hunt the Flame. 480p. (Sands of Arawiya: Bk. 1). Farrar. May 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780374311544.
Gr 9 Up–Faizal’s exciting, action-packed fantasy debut is set in Arawiya, a kingdom inspired by Arabian mythology. The Hunter, 17-year-old Zafira, disguised as a man, seeks a legendary jewel that will restore magic to the land. Assassin-prince Nasir intends to kill Zafira and take the jewel, but is stopped by their undeniable attraction and the threat of an even greater enemy.

FARIZAN, Sara. Here To Stay. 272p. Algonquin. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616207007.
Gr 9 Up–Bijan, who is Iranian Jordanian and a nonpracticing Muslim, becomes the victim of Islamophobia when classmates circulate an edited photo of him depicted as a terrorist. With the support of his friends, Bijan identifies those classmates and fights hate with peace. A compelling look at what it means to be the target of blind hate.

JALALUDDIN, Uzma. Ayesha at Last. 352p. Berkley. Jun. 2019. pap. $16. ISBN 9781984802798.
Gr 10 Up–In this adult novel, a contemporary spin on Pride and Prejudice, Ayesha and Khalid’s mutual attraction wins out over their initial misconceptions of each other. They can’t help falling in love, even though Khalid is expected to follow through with the marriage that his mother is arranging for him—to Ayesha’s cousin. Jalaluddin’s debut is a Muslim love story that expertly navigates the intersections of identity, religion, culture, tradition, familial expectations, and personal dreams.

KULLAB, Samya. Escape from Syria. illus. by Jackie Roche. 96p. Firefly. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781770859821.
Gr 7 Up–Kullab brings the stark reality of Syrian refugees to light in this heartbreaking graphic novel inspired by real people and events. Readers view the conflict over the course of several years through the eyes of Amina, a fictional character. This eye-opening account will spark classroom discussions on current events.

MUHAMMAD, Ibtihaj. Proud: Living My American Dream. 240p. glossary. Little, Brown. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316477000.
Gr 6 Up–The young readers edition of U.S. Olympic fencer Muhammad’s memoir explores her family’s roots and attraction to Islam, her formative childhood and educational experiences, and her rise to Olympic fame, including the painful bigotry of her teammates. Muhammad skillfully discusses the ways that race, class, gender, and religion have affected her ambitions. This examination of what it means to be an accomplished African American Muslim woman will resonate with students.

SAFI, Aminah Mae. Tell Me How You Really Feel. 320p. Feiwel & Friends. Jun. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250299482.
Gr 7 Up–Rachel, who is Jewish, is forced to collaborate on her final film project with the impossibly beautiful, talented Sana, who once seemingly pranked Rachel by asking her out. Their proximity unlocks Sana’s secret longings, challenging her and her family’s expectations, while Rachel must confront her own assumptions. A lovely queer intersectional and feminist romance.

TAHEREH, Mafi. A Very Large Expanse of Sea. 320p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Oct. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062866561.
Gr 9 Up–Shirin, a headscarf-wearing, break-dancing, foul-mouthed 16-year-old, refuses to be constrained by anyone’s expectations. Hardened by the bigotry she has endured in the year since the 9/11 terror attacks, she’s withdrawn, counting down the days until graduation, when she can escape her narrow-minded suburban enclave. When Shirin is forced to become lab partners with Ocean, a popular basketball player with whom she seemingly has nothing in common, she learns to embrace acceptance where she least expects it. This evocative semiautobiographical novel challenges assumptions about why some Muslim women cover their hair and conveys the innocence and passion of first love.

WILSON, G. Willow. The Bird King. 440p. Grove. Tr $26. ISBN 9780802129031.
Gr 10 Up–Although she lives a luxurious life in the sultan’s harem, the only thing Fatima craves is freedom. With the help of Vikram, a jinn who fades from man to dog, Fatima and Hassan, her best friend and magical cartographer, flee the palace when Hassan becomes a target of the Spanish Inquisition. Wilson weaves Arabic, Islam, and Islamic traditions to create an adult novel brimming with YA appeal—one that questions the meaning of time and reality.


Sara G. Ahmed is a general services librarian in Pennsylvania. Mahasin Abuwi Aleem is a children’s librarian in Oakland. Ariana Sani Hussain is a librarian at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Washington, DC. Hadeal Salamah is a children’s librarian in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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