BookBrowse Reviews All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

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All-American Muslim Girl

by Nadine Jolie Courtney

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney X
All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2019, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2021, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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Sixteen-year-old Allie Abraham begins to explore her heritage as a Circassian-American Muslim and deals with the diverse perceptions of her high school classmates, her fellow Muslims and her family.

16-year-old Allie (Alia) Abraham, with her fair coloring, has always been able to "pass" for an All-American girl, rather than the ethnically Circassian daughter of Muslims from Jordan that she is. Then, a series of small but crucial incidents of religious intolerance and xenophobia awaken her awareness of herself as a Muslim. Her parents do not actively practice their religion; her professor father believes in science more than faith, and her mother was raised as a Catholic but converted when she married "Mo" (Muhammad). Allie finds support and instruction among fellow Muslims of various backgrounds in her Atlanta high school and the larger community, reading the Koran, visiting a mosque, praying at designated times with the accompanying preparations, experimenting with a hijab, learning Arabic, and fasting for Ramadan, all for the first time.

As she explores her identity, she also deals with the reactions of friends who were unaware of her religion but now consider her a "good" (as opposed to threatening) Muslim, a status she finds confusing and unsatisfying. Meanwhile, she initiates what she calls "halal dating" with one of the nicest, most understanding and patient young men readers of young adult fiction will ever meet—and somehow he's nice in spite of his invective-spouting media darling father.

When teens find their passion, they tend to jump right in and want to absorb everything right away; Allie's approach to Islam is in this vein. As a result, there is a lot of introspection and questioning, which can slow a story down if not handled well. Here, the author uses an almost Socratic approach to Allie's religious self-discoveries. A chapter in which she and her newfound study group heatedly discuss being both feminist and Muslim presents an astonishing amount of information in the form of a natural and fascinating dialogue that also reveals the personalities and backgrounds of the other young women in the group. The "good Muslim" theme could become pedantic, but when presented as part of Allie's conversations with schoolmates it comes across as organic instead. Allie's close-knit family affords additional opportunities to explore many aspects of culture (food especially has a way of bringing everyone together) and religious practice.

Allie's boyfriend Wells Henderson is perfect but problematic. Allie is new to both Atlanta and her school; given her red-blonde hair, it is no stretch of the imagination that her classmates would be unaware that she is Muslim. But they are equally unaware that Wells' father is the locally famous (or infamous) Jack Henderson, star of his own Atlanta media platform in which he freely and loudly advocates borderline white (male) supremacy. Henderson is a common name, and Wells has managed to come of age as an apple fallen far from the tree—but, given the speed with which news of Allie's religion spreads through the high school when she "comes out," Wells' secret seems unlikely.

Despite this minor narrative flaw, the book succeeds at being highly readable—educational but not didactic—with a fresh and engaging point-of-view. And in the face of post 9/11 Islamophobia in the media, novels like All-American Muslim Girl are important vehicles for helping young people understand a frequently misunderstood religion while enjoying a universal coming-of-age story.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2020, and has been updated for the February 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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