I am so bummed because I had a great review for this and then my internet went down and I lost everything 😭😭
Tale as old as time and I should know better by now but here we are, 2 weeks later finally gathering some courage to attempt another review. Here’s to hoping it’ll be halfway decent!
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
Format: Audible audiobook
I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would for a couple reasons. I had been looking forward to reading this for awhile and was excited when it finally came in for me at the library, but it just didn’t connect with me like I had hoped it would.
For one, there wasn’t as much direct action and dialogue as I usually enjoy. A lot of the events, development, and conflict happening in the book are conveyed through Rukhsana’s thoughts and inner monologue, which is interesting for a little while but can’t hold my attention for an entire novel. I think this was a big part of why I couldn’t connect to the story like I wanted to. I felt like I was distanced from the story because I didn’t feel like I was truly experiencing what Rukhsana was going through, even though we spend most of the book in her head. You’d think being in her head would bring you closer to her and her conflicts, but I found it boring, repetitive, and overall bleh.
Another issue I had was the characterization of some of our main characters, like Rukhsana herself, her girlfriend, and her friends. I think most of my issues with Rukhsana come from how the story is told and how she interacts with those around her in certain situations. Rukhsana’s girlfriend and friend group are super annoying, inconsiderate, and rude. There are parts where they’re not so bad, especially her girlfriend, but I just could not bring myself to like her friends. They know her parents are strict, they basically try to peer pressure/shame Rukhsana into coming out even though she doesn’t feel safe doing so, and they seem to held their friendship over Rukhsana’s head, willing to take it away any time she does something they don’t agree with. I was not here for this friendship at all.
There are a couple other things I didn’t like, but let’s get into the plot so they make some more sense.
I was really enjoying the first half of the book. We explore Rukhsana’s family dynamics, relationships, and the groundwork for a coming-of-age story is established. Then, things get really crazy. Rukhsana’s mom catches her kissing her girlfriend, freaks out, and so ensues a crazy plotline. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the conflicts are really important to discuss and acknowledge, but the book took a turn I was not expecting and that threw me way off.
*It gets slightly spoiler-y here, so you’ve been warned!
Rukhsana’s parents start emotionally abusing her for being gay right from the get go, calling her disgusting and saying they’re ashamed to be associated with her. They manipulate her into going to Bangladesh where they perform an exorcism on her, lock her in her room and drug her, try to force her into an arranged marriage with a man, and continue to emotionally abuse her. She has to steal her passport back from them and try to flee the country because her parents are holding her hostage in a foreign country, it’s that bad. And, on top of this, her friends and girlfriend are not at all understanding and she’s missing school, losing her scholarship to university and the last months of her senior year.
There’s also mentions of rape, physical abuse, beatings and murder, and hate crimes. So yeah, not at all what I was expecting. But like I said, these are important topics, I just wasn’t expecting the book to go this direction and was massively thrown by it. Despite the fact that I couldn’t personally relate to any of what she was going through, I definitely felt for Rukhsana, her grandmother, and all the men and women these characters represent.
After all these terrible events occur, Rukhsana forgives her parents pretty quickly and goes back to normal. I understand the message of forgiveness on her end and growth on her parents’ end, but seriously! They abused and neglected her, that’s not so easy to forgive! I just couldn’t fathom how Rukhsana could forgive them so quickly and how all those around her were encouraging her to give them a chance when they knew what she had gone through.
I’ve said a lot of bad things about this, but there were some good parts. I really liked most of our male characters (it’s been awhile and I can’t remember their names, oops), I liked Rukhsana’s grandmother and cousin, and I liked the descriptions of Bangladesh. The first half of the story was really good and once I got more accustomed to the second half it got a bit better. The very end was fun and I did like the character growth our cast went through. The Audible narrator was pretty good as well.
I would recommend reading this, but know that it has a lot of serious and heavy material in it. If you’re prepared for it you might enjoy the book more than I did; in fact, I hope you do! This book has a lot of potential and I am interested in reading more from this author, but The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali remains a solid 3 for me.