Raise Your Voice is a special annual month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader whose purpose is to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in literature, with a particular emphasis on #OwnVoices stories. In it, authors recommend books with sensitive, positive and accurate representation that will help to create a resource of diverse books that marginalized readers can turn to when they need them most. Your voice matters. Raise it! For a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates, click here.
About S.K. Ali
S.K. Ali has wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote about the only plant topic left in sixth grade to do her project on: goldenrod, the weed. With her words, she made her peers believe it was a rose by another name. Twelve years later, she got her degree in creative writing. And twenty-two years later (please stop adding), in June 2017, her debut YA novel, Saints, Misfits, Monsters, and Mayhem will be available from the Simon & Schuster imprint, Salaam Reads.
(You can add Taro and the Tofu to your Goodreads shelves Here!)
One day, in the early 80’s, a bibliophile brought home yet another bag of books he’d purchased. He got tsked by his wife: Had he forgotten that the bookshelves were crammed and that most of the flat surfaces in the tiny apartment had tall, teetering book piles?
“But these are for the kids,” he responded, as if the children’s rooms were free of books. Um, no.
I, being one of the kids, duly accepted the books from my dad.
Having been taught from an early age that a-reader-I-must-be, I glumly worked my way through the offerings. This was reading, wasn’t it? Decoding the words on the page properly?
And then, in that bag, I found my first #OwnVoices book ever, Taro and the Tofu by Masako Matsuno.
Upon finishing it, I became a life-long reader.
Here’s what compelled me to read Taro and the Tofu over and over as an eight-year-old: the echo of shared-experiences — of people and situations I knew. Though the characters were Japanese, it was the closest I’d seen to a family like mine in a book.
While I went on to devour books of all kinds, I continued to search for that echo. It was elusive. Books seemed to be about other kids, other girls, other families. They were still wonderful of course. Just not my-very-own wonderful.
The precious times that some thing in a book resonated with me were treasured and returned to. Like books with allusions to or scenes in a synagogue, especially Judy Blume’s. Oh, I loved those, because they were this close to my mosque experiences.
The nearest I got to a Muslim-girl-book, as a young reader, was in high school and I still haven’t recovered. Written by a non-Muslim, it belonged to the category of literature well-meaning educators push on students in the interest of “diversity”. It made me ashamed to be Muslim. It was the opposite of ownvoice. It further marginalized me.
And this was one the few “positive” books about people like me.
Having grown up without seeing authentic Muslim characters doing ordinary and extraordinary things, I’m floating on air in this new era of Muslim #OwnVoices writers.
Like Karuna Riazi and her MG title, The Gauntlet. The main character, Farah, is the Muslim heroine I searched for as a budding reader. That echo, no longer elusive, but now leading a dangerous adventure into the heart of a mysterious board game!
Farah’s mother could have been mine, the way she negotiates her new neighborhood with grace and patience. The entire family — Karuna brings them to life in energetic, vivid detail. The we’re-in-this-together bond rings with ownvoice authenticity.
This book would not have left my bedside in that tiny apartment.
As a teen, I would have dog-eared Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s memoir, Muslim Girl, loving it to shreds. The echo would have been real: a girl who didn’t allow herself to be othered, who didn’t get daunted by Islamophobia and instead, chose to claim an identity that people told her was “backward” and “savage”. She learned that it was neither; just that voices like hers needed to break through.
These two titles are on my shelf with other Muslim voices, all recently published. As new books continue to be added, it’s going to become quite crammed up there.
And yes, this bibliophile couldn’t be happier.
Title Saints, Misfits, Monsters, and Mayhem
Author S.K. Ali
Pages 352 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary
To Be Published June 13th, 2017 by Salaam Reads ● Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
Saints, Misfits, Monsters, and Mayhem is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me — the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand new family or in the leftover one comprised of Mom and my older brother, Mama-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, “Janna and Jeremy” sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody’s seen under the mask.
About Karuna Riazi
Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. Besides pursuing a BA in English literature, she is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and publishing intern. Karuna is fond of tea, Korean dramas, writing about tough girls forging their own paths toward their destinies, and baking new delectable treats for friends and family to relish.Author Links: Twitter ● Tumblr ● Cake Literary ● Goodreads
(You can add Ms. Marvel to your Goodreads shelves Here!)
I’ve spoken on this so many times before, letting the same vein that I’m always sure – every time, every rendition, every new post – has been emptied and collapsed in on itself, finally thin-walled and purged of its lingering bitterness. You don’t realize how deep the well of resentment over never seeing yourself on the written page is, until you toss aside the never-ending bucket and plunge your hands down into it.
I am in my early twenties, and I still cannot say with 100% assurance that I have properly seen myself in a book – seen my experience as a Muslim woman, and a biracial woman, and the daughter of an interfaith family, lovingly drawn out and unwound and stitched glimmering and glorious in ways I never knew I needed until they were spread over my lap.
But at least, now, I have seen people like me. At least I am encouraged, am hopeful, have felt my heart grow several sizes from the young girl who insisted to her mother that “there was nothing interesting about Muslim girls”, that there was nothing worth writing about in my own life and my people’s own culture, nothing rich and gold to mine.
At least now, there is a growing, beautiful canon of Muslim authors, people reaching back into those familiar, beloved traditions and drawing them out and unwinding them and stitching them back together, glimmering and glorious, for everyone to enjoy and be reassured by and know that they are seen and worth knowing. From shooting stars like Aisha Saeed and Sabaa Tahir to my own home at Simon and Schuster, Salaam Reads, we are getting the new horizons we dreamed of.
When Jen asked me to write this post, the first name that came to mind was Kamala Khan. Ms. Marvel’s presence in our world now spans multiple comic books and fanart. In a time of rising Islamophobia, deeply felt fears of our own Otherness and how vulnerable it makes us, Ms. Marvel is the superhero we needed and the one that we deserve. One of my favorite Tumblr tags goes along the lines of, “She came to show us that Muslim girls could be heroes,” and I deeply believe that, whether that is from simply being lost in G. Willow Wilson’s marvelous words for a few hours or using her in graffiti countering bigoted transport advertisements.
Kamala is kind and nerds out over her role models. She’s your average teenage girl who sneaks out to a party and gets thrilled when her older brother is engaged and isn’t sure what worth she has, who doubts the extent of her own visible strengths and often acts before she thinks. And at the same time, she attends classes at the local masjid, quotes the Qu’ran and isn’t afraid to be Muslim, isn’t afraid to encourage us to embrace the faith that makes us celebrate our humanity as well as that of those around us.
She came to show us that Muslim girls could be heroes. There is nothing more important, more powerful, more desperately needed than that. And even though no longer a teenager, no longer as lost as she used to be, no longer as distant and adrift and worried, the Muslim girl writing these words didn’t realize how much she needed Ms. Marvel until she had her.
Title The Gauntlet
Author Karuna Riazi
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre & Keywords Fantasy
Published March 28th, 2017 by Salaam Reads ● Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand — a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube — they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?