This book was provided free-of-charge from Penguin.
I don't accept many books for review anymore, since my time is limited and my shelves are over-flowing. But Rajia Hassib's novel about an American-Egyptian family that must cope with a tragic event sparked my interest. Plus I can be a sucker for a first time novelist.
Just to give a brief synopsis, Samir and Nagla's family is devastated after their older son, Hosaam, shoots his ex-girlfriend and long-time neighbor, Natalie, and then himself. Given their Egyptian background, the community is quick to start a loud, angry, violent backlash towards the family. They find themselves in the midst of the chaos once again a year later when a memorial is planned for the young girl. The family must accept their own dysfunction as they react to Samir's decision to speak out at the service, despite everyone's advice not to.
There's a lot that I appreciated about this novel. Racial intolerance is at the forefront of our society constantly, whether people are lashing out at African Americans, Mexicans, or those from the Middle East. Drawing attention to the issue in an appropriate, compassionate manner, is always a good thing. I also liked the touches of science, both in Samir's career as a doctor and his son Khaled's passion for butterflies and hiking. The narrative structure, in terms of a countdown towards the memorial, with flashbacks to pivotal moments for the family, contributed towards's Hassib's perfect pacing and suspense.
As a whole, though, I did find fault with a lot of the dialogue. It frequently felt forced and unnatural, which therefore made the relationships between the characters a bit flat. I also thought some of the references were a little awkward, like how Khaled regards Facebook (Facebook's main demographic these day isn't really with the high school crowd...) and how he listens to Matchbox 20 and Jay-Z (I personally like both, but the way they were both mentioned was odd). Like with any sort of pop-culture references these sorts of things tend to date themselves, which can work sometimes, but here did not. While I'm being nit-picky, I'll throw in the fact that the beginning of the book, a flashback to a time when Khaled was sick and his grandmother was trying to heal him did not hook me at all. I understand the set up in terms of establishing a conflict between American and Egyptian ways, as well as the family dyanmics, but I found it a bit hard to settle in at first.
As a whole, I thought this was a decent book for an author's debut and I think her writing shows a lot of potential. I'd be interested in checking out her future projects.