Boy vs. Girl
by Na'ima B. Robert
Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Received from Publisher
and Teen Book Scene for
Farhana swallowed and reached for the hijab. But then she saw with absolute clarity the weird looks from the other girls at school, and the smirks from the guys. Did she dare? And then there was Malik... What should she do about him? Faraz was thinking about Skrooz and the lads. Soon he would finally have the respect of the other kids at school. But at what price? He heard Skrooz's voice, sharp as a switchblade: "This thing is powerful, blud. But you have to earn it, see? Just a few more errands for me..." They're twins, born 6 minutes apart. Both are in turmooil and both have life-changing choices to make, against the peaceful backdrop of Ramadan. Do Farhana and Faraz have enough courage to do the right thing? And can they help each other - or will one of them draw the other towards catastrophe? This powerful novel explores the idea of honour and what it means to different generations of Muslim families. (Taken from Amazon).
First I'd like to point out that the summary on Good Reads is incorrect. Okay, so we got that out of the way. The above, is from the back of the book and is accurate.
I received this book from the publisher and Teen Book Scene in exchange for a fair and honest review. I am in no way receiving any compensation for my review of this book.
I am somewhat familiar with Ramadan and some Pakistani customs. I'm also familiar with the fact that Pakistanis living in countries other than Muslim countries are faced with two different worlds- the one their parents were raised in that they are expected to follow with arranged marriages, no dating, drinking, smoking, or any other kind of imbibing and no partying of any kind, even if you don't do any of those things. Then there is the real world. The one they face every day at school with their non-Muslim friends where they talk about what they did over the weekend and the boys or girls they are dating and other things that "good" Muslims don't do. Here are a few phrases that describe what it is like at least for Farhana, " ...you are their daughter, a Pakistani girl, a Muslim. You are expected to stay chaste, away from all this teen romance nonsense." (p.65) And "...parties were out of the question, staying over at friends' houses was unthinkable." (p.65) Then, "...how crazy was that? All around her, the messages were the complete opposite. The music, the videos, the movies, the teen magazines, were all full of the same thing: boys, boys, boys! It was like if you weren't hooking up with some guy or the other, you were on of the last living freaks." (p. 65-66). In reading Boy vs. Girl, it gave me a better appreciation for what a difficult world it is for anyone that doesn't follow the normal societal code.
Faraz is a sensitive, shy, good looking possibly effeminate boy. He isnt gay. He just isn't sports minded like his father. He's artistic. He's described as a "pretty boy" by the bullies and gang members in the book. In order to protect himself, he joins a gang, knowing it isn't right, but feeling like there isn't a way out. And truthfully looking at his situation, I wouldn't know how to get out of it either.
But as Ramadan approaches his aunt charges him to think about what he wants to get out of this Ramadan besides fasting. What does he want to accomplish. He has his own problems with his religion, never having been able to comprehend some of the language in the Qur'an. "What was the point of memorizing the Qur'an at madressah (Qur'anic school) if you couldn't even understand it at the end?" (p.78).
Farhana, his twin is brilliant and beautiful and has been secretly seeing a Muslim boy, Malik. But he broke her heart by seeing another girl and she hasn't been accepting his calls, but she still wants him. No matter how innocent it was, it is against what her mother and father would want for her and she thinks for Ramadan she will finally be over him. She also decides to wear the hajib the scarf over her hair and neck, not to display how devout she was, but "to make herself aware of God, her actions, being accountable, being a walking symbol of Islam." (p. 30) It had nothing to do with oppression.
I learned quite a bit about the wearing of the burqa -the full body covering and the niqab the veil that covers the face. The aunt that asked the twins about what they wanted from themselves during Ramadan, Aunt Najma, wore a jilbab- a loose flowing garment over regular clothes, a niqab, and even long black gloves. But she was educated at the university, went to mosque to pray and seemed to be active at least in helping homeless women. Of all the women Farhana and Faraz were around, she seemed to be the most liberated and of her own choosing, wore these garments as a show of commitment to her faith. She had no husband or man telling her she must wear them and in fact was almost shunned by her family for wearing them. As Farhana and her best friend discuss her aunt, Farhana laments that her grandmother "Naneeji's more interested in culture and what 'the community' will say"(p. 189) when her aunt wants to marry a non-Pakistani Muslim. Couldn't you just see your mother or grandmother saying something like that? I know mine has.
To say this novel was a fascinating look into the Pakistani culture would be a huge understatement. But that isn't all it is. It's a look at the generation gap between parents and their kids that occurs in many cultures. It's a look at the pressures kids face trying to live two different lives. And at the heart of it, it's a story about a brother and sister during the month of Ramadan who stray from their goals and find their way back in a somewhat drastic way to themselves.
I loved this novel. The writing style was so easy to read even with all the foreign words, there is a glossary in the back of the book. I read it easily in a few hours and was able to understand the religious aspects of the novel well enough to understand it's importance to the two main characters. The novel in no way is trying to convert you to Islam. Nor is it making a statement about Islam. It just happens to be a story that takes place during Ramadan, the holy month for Islam, and in an Islamic community. The story revolves around the brother and sister and what is happening with them. Both characters share the narration of the story and I got a real feeling for who they were as people. I understood their motivations even if I didn't agree with them.
I'd recommend this novel to anyone that wants to learn a little more about Muslim traditions. My previous misconceptions about the clothing were busted wide open in reading this novel. So were the mom and dad's. My 11yr old was reading over my shoulder for the last twenty pages and decided he'd like to read it and I'd say it's perfectly fine for the ten and up crowd. Read it. Maybe the more we know each other, the less scared we'll be to talk to each other.