Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali
Genres: Young Adult, Romance
Maturity Level: 3
Content Warnings: Islamophobia, Degenerative Illness
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A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since [redacted by reviewer, because spoiler!], Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping [redacted] a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
I loved this book so much! Maybe even more than A Very Large Expanse of Sea, which was my favorite YA book last year, and in several years, tbh. While the content of this book was similar, the style this book was written in was much more my preference and equally good.
My very absolutely favorite thing about Love from A to Z was the romance between Zayneb and Adam. I much prefer the never-touching-but-still-getting-butterflies type romances to the explicitly sexy kind, so their chemistry was already in my wheelhouse, but their religious reason to their decision to take it slow was very meaningful to me. Though I’m not Muslim, I had similar (though less conservative) beliefs surrounding relationships as a young person. I loved their like-at-first-sight that developed into something more intense as they got to know each other, and respected their mutual decision to see if it they were a good pair before they entered into an actual relationship. Also, Zayneb’s hair-fantasies were both adorable and super spicy.
I also really loved both Zayneb and Adam as people. I didn’t relate much to Zayneb, I’m not a very angry person and she has lots of anger. Justified anger, but still, that’s not something I identify with. But even though I didn’t relate to her, I found myself very drawn to her, caring deeply about her and her feelings. I related more to Adam, more because his outlook is what I aspire to more than because I’m in any way similar to him. I admired his inner-peace, his optimistic way of looking at the world, and his love for his family.
Their journals were so unique and cool! They were inspired separately by an ancient manuscript about the wonders and oddities of the world, and so they record the wonders and oddities around them. I thought that was lovely.
But even though this is an adorable, feel-good romance with great chemistry, there were a lot of heavier themes throughout. Islamophobia and degenerative illness in particular are front and center. I wish I could say I was surprised by the Islamophobia Zayneb experienced, but it’s an all-too familiar story, especially where I live. I had friends in high school who weren’t even Islamic, but their brown skin made them subject to the same prejudice. I had buried my anger and frustration with the American use of drone warfare and the collateral damage it causes deep inside some years ago, but now it’s back on the surface, simmering with no outlet. Zayneb’s anger is so understandable, so palpable, so justified. So is her feeling of helplessness, like nothing can ever change. I admire Ali for shining light on these difficult topics, and more, but in a way that didn’t feel too heavy or soul-crushing.
I also loved the way Ali actually talks about religion and beliefs. For Zayneb and Adam, Islam isn’t just a culture or something to fill the pages about the weekend, it is a way of life. Adam in particular finds great beauty and meaning in his religion. As a religious person this was beautiful to see. A joyous noise to the Lord indeed! I also found it very interesting to read about the different way people come into Islam. Adam and his family are converts and have zero ethnic ties to the Middle East, Africa, or south Asia where Islam is more predominate. Zayneb was born Muslim, but her mother married into the religion. It really challenges America’s preconceived notions about who is or can be or should be Islamic.
I have nothing but great things to say about this book. I don’t know why it doesn’t get more attention. I highly recommend it, especially to fans of YA romance.