BookBrowse Reviews Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Love, Hate and Other Filters

by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed X
Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2019, 312 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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In this unforgettable debut novel, an Indian-American Muslim teen copes with Islamophobia, cultural divides among peers and parents, and a reality she can neither explain nor escape.

Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz has a lot of secrets. The high school senior and aspiring documentary filmmaker longs to attend the film program at NYU and has been accepted to the highly competitive program. But she is terrified of telling her parents, who would prefer her to attend the University of Chicago or Northwestern, schools where they can keep close tabs on her from their suburban Chicago home. Maya is also harboring a not-so-secret infatuation with her classmate Phil, who may be available (and interested?) following a breakup with his longtime girlfriend. But how can Maya tell her parents that she's in love with a white boy when they, both immigrants from India, are devoting themselves to matching her with a nice young Indian Muslim boy?

Maya loves and admires her parents, who made their own love match in India and started a successful dental practice in the United States. And when they encourage her to date a suitable (and handsome) young man named Kareem, she finds herself enjoying their time together. But is suitability enough to overcome Maya's curiosity about and attraction to Phil?

What starts out as a fairly traditional love triangle plot quickly takes a sharp and dramatic turn, however, when a terror attack in nearby Springfield, Illinois turns Maya's life on edge. She doesn't know anyone who's been injured or killed in the attack, and she certainly doesn't know the perpetrator - but the top suspect just happens to also be named Aziz, and in the course of a single day, Maya and her family go from being an ordinary family, respected in their upper-middle-class suburban community, to being targeted by those who hate them for their name and their religion. Societal prejudice and fear soon intersects with Maya's personal life, and she finds herself questioning whether all the doors she once thought were open—doors leading to education, career fulfillment, and love - have now been slammed in her face.

In Samira Ahmed's thoughtful debut novel, Maya's first-person narrative alternates with more ominous passages fueled by hate and dread, passages that initially may unsettle readers and eventually may force them to wrestle with their own prejudices and preconceptions. The shift from straightforward young adult romance to a more intense story of intolerance and hatred may seem abrupt or even jarring to many readers, but in the end, this backdrop helps provide context for Maya's personal conflicts and illustrate how her particular struggles are both universal and also specific to her identity as a young American Muslim woman of Indian descent.

One of the most compelling characters in Ahmed's novel is Maya's aunt, Hina. A successful graphic designer living independently in Chicago, she shares a heritage and inherited value system with Maya's parents but has made very different choices. Maya views her independent, opinionated aunt as a role model, and when things get tense with her parents, she increasingly relies on Hina as a source of strength, resources, and inspiration. Hina's story isn't a perfect one - she acknowledges what she's given up by prioritizing career over a more traditional Indian marriage and family - but she offers a way for Maya to imagine a new kind of future for herself, one that may manage to marry the best aspects of Indian tradition and Muslim faith with the possibilities and freedoms of modern American culture. What's more, the crisis that Maya and her family undergo prompts Maya to move outside her comfort zone - observing her life as if through a film camera - and become a much more active participant in her own life and loves.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters doesn't offer easy answers or tidy endings for its characters, but readers are left knowing that Maya has grown stronger thanks to her experiences and has found the courage to speak up for herself and to imagine her own hopeful vision for the future.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in January 2018, and has been updated for the January 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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