Written by: Sabina Khan
Cover Art by:
For ages: YA book
Topics Covered: LGBTQ, Family, Marriage, Independence, Love, Acceptance, LGBTQ Violence, Homophobia, Bangladeshi Culture & Traditions.
Summary: I could NOT put this book down. I was instantly hooked. Warning: you will feel ALL the emotions during this read.
Rukhsana is a teenager, just a few months away from graduation. Rukhsana’s parents are Bangladeshi, and very strict. They have no idea that she is dating a white girl named Ariana. Rukhsana’s parents in fact, would love to arrange a marriage for her but Rukhsana is able to secure a full ride to CalTech for physics and bide some time before that happens. However, one day Ariana is over and Rukhsana’s mother catches them kissing. All of a sudden, she is whisked away to Bangladesh to visit her “ailing grandmother”, but then ulterior motives are uncovered and Rukhsana is informed she is not allowed to leave the country until she agrees to a formal engagement with a suitable husband-to-be. After a botched escape plan where Rukhsana’s passport hiding place is discovered and a tumultuous fight with Ariana over the phone, she feels alone and defeated. Rukhsana is then informed she must be married before leaving the country, locked in a room, and a shaman is called to perform an exorcism of the bad spirit (jinn) that is making her act so disobedient. Then Rukhsana meets someone named Sohail, a boy whose parents are pushing for him to get married. But it turns out, he’s already dating someone…someone handsome that lives in the United States. Sohail and Rukhsana hatch a plan to feign an engagement and then flee before the wedding where they will part ways and link back up with their partners. Sohail is also a famous blogger, but he writes about what is wrong with Bangladesh and calls for reform-specifically with the anti-LGBT policies currently in place. He has thousands of weekly readers but is also being followed by extremists known for violence. When eating lunch together in a cafe, some thugs sit near the pair to intimidate Sohail. He quickly wraps up lunch and they finish eating in his office, laughing off the incident.
When the day of the wedding ceremony comes, Rukhsana plans to sneak out of her family’s home into a taxi with her younger brother and go to the airport. Sohail will do the same and they will catch the flight together. When Rukhsana arrives, Sohail is late. She waits as long as she can, but gets on the plane alone and makes the long trek back to America, where some friends pick her up and let her stay at their house. When Rukhsana finally turns her phone back on, she has many missed calls and voicemails from her parents. Thinking that they are angry at her for skipping out on the expensive wedding, she ignores them and takes a few days to attempt emotional healing from the extreme trauma and duress that she has just endured over the last few months stuck in Bangladesh. Her friends sit her down, and tell her she needs to listen to the messages. Sohail is dead. On the way to the airport he is murdered viciously with a machete by the thugs, because he is gay.
I won’t spoil the ending, but just know that it will wrench your heart from the very depths inside your soul and be impossible to put down. I was reading it through tears, enraptured at the emotional complexity of the characters, and the growth of Rukhsana throughout this life-changing endeavor that she found herself inextricably linked to, unable to escape.
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Sabina Khan is the author of THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI, a YA Contemporary, was released Spring 2019 from Scholastic. She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three daughters, one of whom is a fur baby.