I have been watching with interest the increasing attention placed on diversity in literature for teens in recent years. The public library in which I work is smack in the middle of the most diverse school district in the entire nation* and at 2:30 every day the library is a riot of languages as students flood in to use the computers and look for materials. The library is heavily used by teens and, while we have been able to provide strong collections in some areas (Bollywood films, Spanish language materials), we simply fall short in others (books for teens in Burmese or Nepali? Dream on). With a significant Muslim population in the community, many of whom are serious readers, I constantly struggle to find relevant titles that will speak to teens wanting to see themselves reflected in what they read.
For a while, it seemed like the only books out there featuring Muslim teens were either about suicide bombers or victims of post-9/11 racial discrimination. With the success of Randa Abdel-Fattah‘s books about everyday Muslim teens who just happen to be struggling with different aspects of their faith, publishers seem to have realized there is a market for them and some have even responded, but it’s happening veeeery slowly. Here are two recent books featuring Muslim main characters:
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever by debut author Medeia Sharif was published in 2011 and is an obvious choice for girls who have already read and loved Abdel-Fattah’s books. This is one of the few books about a Muslim teen that is set in the United States, and Almira is American through and through. Food, parents and boys figure prominently in this title, but it isn’t all fluff and nonsense; Almira (and the book) have more depth than you might suspect at a casual glance.
But what about readers looking for something a little more serious? You might try Where I Belong by English author Gillian Cross. Also published in 2011, it features two Muslim characters, both immigrants living in London, along with a British teen. This one is an international thriller and touches on some timely themes including the fashion industry (!) and the current lawlessness in Somalia (admittedly, I haven’t read this one yet but that is because it’s always checked out).
While I am happy to see more books featuring Muslim teens being published, the characters in them are almost exclusively female and the few books with significant male Muslim characters seem marketed to a female audience. I have yet to see a male counterpart to Ten Things I Hate About Me, but I am anxiously awaiting the day it happens.
I know I’m not the only one looking for more books about Muslim teens. Have one you want to share? Please add them in the comments field below!
— Summer Hayes, currently reading Habibi by Craig Thompson
*It’s true! I was surprised, too, but according to this study in the New York Times, our humble little Washington State district actually beat out California and New York for the most diverse student body.