An Emotion of Great Delight


Publication Date: 2 Jun. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781405298261

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    It's 2003. It's been several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the political world has evolved. Shadi, who wears hijab (a visible allegiance to Islam) keeps her head down. Hate crimes are spiking. Undercover FBI agents are infiltrating mosques and interrogating members of the congregation, and the local Muslim community is beginning to fracture. Shadi hears the fights after services, the arguments between families about what it means to be Muslim --about what they should be doing and saying as a community--but she does not engage.

    After all, Shadi is too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

    She may be named for joy, but Shadi is haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there's the small matter of her heart: it's broken.

    Shadi has tried to navigate the remains of her quickly-shattering world by soldiering through, saying nothing, until finally, one day, everything changes. She explodes.

    Information

    Book Type: Senior High
    Age Group: 15 years +
    Traffic Lights: Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
    Literary Rating: 4.5/5

    Review

    Set in 2003 with flashbacks to 2002, this book follows a few days in the turbulent life of Shadi, a Muslim teenager living in post 9/11 America. A year before, Shadi's best friend Zahra accused her of the ultimate betrayal: dating Zahra's older brother Ali in secret. Zahra has been used by many girls trying to get close to the popular, attractive Ali--but Shadi was never one of them. Zahra's paranoia destroyed their friendship anyway and they're no longer on speaking terms. When Shadi's older brother died a week later, she had no-one to turn to.

    Shadi blames her father for her brother's death--an argument over Mehdi's irresponsible, haram, substance abuse was what drove him out onto the streets where he was hit by a car. His death and the question of blame drives a wedge between the surviving members of the family. Shadi resolves to make herself as little of a burden as possible, so focuses on school and talks to no-one about her misery. Her older sister, Shayda, tries to keep the house running; her mother begins self-harming in secret; her father contracts a heart condition which Shadi hopes will kill him. They avoid one another and live in uneasy silence. Shadi, who hid her brother's contraband items from her parents, now remembers him by smoking the last of his cigarettes.

    When Ali finds Shadi smoking one day, the feelings she'd been trying to ignore come rushing back. Suddenly the unfairness of Zahra's ultimatum and the jealousy that prompted it become clearer. Meanwhile, she's slowly building a friendship with another boy: Noah, new to town and hoping for advice on what mosque to attend. Slowly, Shadi starts to realise that she doesn't have to be alone forever.

    As Shadi wrestles with her feelings, life continues. Shayda is proposed to; their mother is hospitalised for a panic attack; their father comes home and finally tells Shadi he regrets what happened to Mehdi. Shadi has a breakdown at school and turns to Ali's parents who ask if they can help, seeing that there's something wrong with her home situation. She refuses, feeling undeserving of their support.

    Shadi goes to the pool, where Ali finds her again. He tells her that he can't stop loving her; she tells him he doesn't have to stop, because she never did.

    This book is rendered in intensely poetic prose. The sheer force of Shadi's emotions and the lengths she goes to in repressing them will sweep readers off their feet.

    This is a nuanced and singular perspective on grief, trauma, race, culture, and religion. Shadi's love of her mosque--combined with her criticism of the more conservative members of the community--is thought-provoking. Her desperation to be a "good" child and to avoid making a fuss is a heartbreaking yet all-too-common reaction to the pressure she's under. Shadi's difficulties asking for help from the other adults in her life are complicated by her loyalty to her mother and her difficulties admitting she's in need. Her relationship with Ali--and the star-crossed yet very relatable progression of their relationship--is also tangled up with her ideas on being a good friend and person. The fragmented narrative, flashing back and forward between two timelines, reflects Shadi's emotional turmoil. The push and pull between her faith and desire makes for an explosive and irresistible read.

    Themes

    grief, mental illness, racism, xenophobia, trauma, 9/11, culture, religion, Islam, loyalty, family

    Content Notes

    1. Mention of minor cuts and other injuries (p. 31, 216). Mention that Shadi's mum self-harms (p. 73, 203). Car accident, no injuries (p. 122). 2. Substances: Cigarettes (p. 33, 119, 156-157). Shadi mentions hiding Mehdi's weed, porn, condoms, and a glass pipe (p. 119). Mention that Mehdi had alcohol (p. 149). 3. Language: Jesus x 3(p. 36, 107, 233), f*ck x 12 (p. 49, 50, 68, 91, 99, 114 x 3, 131, 161, 188), shit x 10. 4. Mention of xenophobia and racial profiling throughout. Mention that someone pulled off Zahra's headscarf (p. 91). Shadi is approached by bigots, who call her a "towelhead" and make other racist remarks (p. 113-115). 5. Ali and Shadi kiss (p. 167, 219).

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