That Thing We Call A Heart

That Thing We Call A Heart

Book - 2017
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"High school has ended, and Shabnam Qureshi is facing a summer of loneliness and boredom. She's felt alienated from her gutsy best friend, Farah, ever since Farah started wearing the Muslim head scarf--without even bothering to discuss it with Shabnam first. But no one else comes close to understanding her, especially not her parents. All Shabnam wants to do is get through the summer. Get to Penn. Begin anew. Not look back. That is, until she meets Jamie...In her quest to figure out who she really is and what she really wants, Shabnam looks for help in an unexpected place--her family." provided by publisher
When Shabnab's best friend starts wearing a Muslim headscarf, she feels alienated until taking a summer job that leads to falling in love with a friend in ways that remind her of the rose and nightingale of classic Urdu poetry.
Publisher: New York, NY :, HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers,, 2017
Edition: First Edition
ISBN: 9780062445704
Characteristics: 275 pages ; 22 cm


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RomanceAddict Aug 13, 2019

I'm always looking for books with Muslim characters who AREN'T oppressed victims or extremists, so I thought "That Thing We Call A Heart" looked like a good option. Unfortunately, I disliked pretty much every character (except Shabnam's mother and her Chotay Dada).

They were all self-centered and generally invested in doing everything against the teachings of Islam. Sure, Farah wear a headscarf, but she also swears a blue streak and smokes weed. She even claims that only alcohol is forbidden, thereby giving herself a pass on all other forms of recreational drugs. This runs counter to Islam, which prohibits not only alcohol, but all intoxicants (except those with a legitimate medical need and no non-intoxicating alternative).

Shabnam knows little about Islam and shows no interest in remedying her ignorance, preferring to drink jello shots, smoke weed, be nasty to her parents, and obsess over Jamie, the guy she sneaks around with. Her only redeeming action is that, towards the end, she acknowledges her rotten behavior to her parents and to Farah, and starts making an effort to help her parents have a happier marriage by drawing her dad out of his brain and making him express more than political outrage or love for Urdu poetry.

I would much rather have read a book about Shabnam's mother, who is kind and loving to a daughter who largely ignores her, or her Chotay Dada, who survived the Partition.

Apr 12, 2018

At its core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her "former" best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn't see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam's "relationship" with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil's advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn't feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness -- realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn't get Jamie's appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he's not the kind of guy I'd dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam's interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam's family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam's father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don't share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There's a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.


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