Welcome back to The Big Five (+1) in YA: a series of posts on religion in young adult novels. Previously, I’ve posted about Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. Today, we are moving on to Islam. I’d like to start by saying that I feel the following books provide insight into a religion that is all too often stereotyped and villainized in American society. However, as I was putting together this list of books to feature, I also noticed that every novel but one includes an Islamic terrorist act or organization as part of the story line. Within the context of each individual novel, I don’t feel that any of them perpetuate the negative stereotype of “Muslims are terrorists,” but taken as a trend, it is somewhat disturbing to think that four out of five of my featured books deal with violent acts by Muslims.
Borderline by Allan Stratton
Sami Sabiri, the only Muslim student at his school, faces daily bullying from his classmates and increasing distance from his Iranian father at home. Then the FBI implicates Sami’s dad in the plotting of a terrorist organization, and Sami has to find out the truth behind their accusations.
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson
Paterson’s novel focuses on a Muslim group that some students may not realize exists: Muslim Albanians, who faced incredible persecution in the Kosovo war. Brought as refugees to the United States, the Albanian family in this novel also face intolerance from their small Vermont community after the events of 9/11.
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Amal, the main character of this book, was born in Australia, but is also Muslim-Palestinian. At 16 years old, she makes the decision to wear the hijab, regardless of how others will view her. The decision brings its share of turmoil, including insults from students at her school and being refused a part-time job. However, she also receives support from her parents and her friends (of all religions) as she takes this step forward in following her faith.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
Ten year old Jamie lost his sister to a Muslim terrorist attack five years ago. After her death, his family falls apart; Jamie and his sister Jasmine move with their father from London to the Lake District of England. Bullied in his new school, the only person who reaches out to Jamie is Sunya, a Muslim girl. Jamie’s friendship with Sunya angers his father, who now harbors a hatred for all Muslims and constantly reminds Jamie that Muslims killed his sister.
In the Name of God by Paula Jolin
Set in Syria, this short novel follows a teenage girl through her journey from devout Muslim to potential suicide bomber. While the girl’s transition to radicalism happens somewhat quickly, the book realistically shows how young people might make such a decision to take violent action.
Other YA Titles Featuring Islam
- Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
- Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos
- Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
- Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera
I’m sure there are titles I’ve missed; please add them in the comments! Also, I’d love to hear your opinions of any of the books mentioned in this post.
— Whitney Etchison, currently reading Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, edited by Jonathan Strahan