That Thing We Call a Heart

288p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062445704.
Gr 9 Up—The summer before college is a fraught one for Shabnam. Although she and Farah were once practically sisters, there's a distance between them now that Farah has chosen to wear hijab. Shabnam feels uncomfortable with the attention her friend's decision often attracts. Meanwhile, Shabnam falls hard for Jamie, navigates her relationship with her family, and, under her father's guidance, discovers the beauty of Urdu poetry. The story line is slight and the romantic plot predictable, but what sets this funny, dialogue-heavy read apart is its nuanced examination of identity. Beneath Shabnam's snide commentary about herself, her Pakistani and Muslim heritage, and her family lies genuine insecurity, which Karim teases out deftly. The protagonist's careless actions and blunt, sarcastic voice may put off some readers (for instance, she describes her great-uncle as being "a turban away from scary mullah"), but she is a relatable adolescent who is willing to grow and who eventually comes to gain a fuller appreciation of her culture. Many secondary characters are also well written. Karim has crafted a complex portrait of a young Muslim woman with Farah: though devoted to her religion, she is an outspoken feminist who smokes marijuana and attends punk rock concerts. Jamie, however, feels like more of a plot device than a well-developed character. Sexual situations, drug use, and profanity make this title appropriate for older audiences.
VERDICT Fans of Sara Zarr and Jenny Han and readers of realistic fiction will enjoy this thoughtful, witty offering.

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