Spoiler-Free Review: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
I had picked up The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali for two reasons: one, I had heard good things on Goodreads and two, because Sabina Khan was going to be at the Infusion YA Book Festival in Vancouver. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I was completely sucked in, and this book has quickly become one of my favourite YA contemporary novels.
This book is own-voices for the Muslim representation and the representation of Bengali culture. Before I dive deeper into this review, I want to be clear that I am not Muslim or Bengali, so there are many cultural topics that I am unable to speak on because it is not my lived experience.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali follows high school senior Rukhsana, who is both Muslim and a lesbian. She is closeted at home and has strict expectations put on her by her mother and father to be what they consider a good Muslim woman to be. Rukhsana is counting down the days until graduation, where she can go to college and finally openly be with her girlfriend Ariana. However, everything doesn’t go as planned when her mother walks in on her kissing Ariana. She is then whisked off to Bangladesh by her parents, and Rukhsana realizes that she must find her courage to fight for her love, fight for her identity and get home.
The writing style is easy to read and conversational as if Rukhsana is sitting next to you telling you her story. We learn that Rukhsana is driven, passionate and is sure of her identity, and the writing style allows us as the readers to understand Rukhsana on a deeper level than we would if this book was written in a different style or perspective.
Rukhsana loves fiercely, and this shows through her relationship with Ariana, which is not perfect, and I loved that it was portrayed as imperfect. Whether you are in a same-sex relationship or not, the cultural differences that Rukhsana and Ariana struggle with are relatable for anyone who has been in an inter-cultural relationship. We got to understand Ariana’s sadness in having to hide their relationship but also were frustrated that it seemed like she wasn’t trying to understand Rukhsana’s perspective. The story presented many opportunities for the two of them to address differences and issues with communication that they previously pushed under the rug, and I liked how it wasn’t an easy fix.
At the Infusion YA event, Sabina Khan spoke about how she wrote this book for her daughters. Not only because her daughter had come out as bisexual, but also because she wanted them to have stories of someone who looked like them and who they could relate to. A lot of LGBTQ+ coming out stories that are popularized in the media do come from a privileged, white perspective, and I think this makes stories like Rukhsana’s to be valuable. It is essential for us to recognize that culture can play a huge role in how a queer person of colour chooses to come out, if they feel safe enough to be able to come out and how they feel about their identity. We also are shown through many different characters that not all Bengali people are against homosexuality and that it’s not a generational thing. Rukhsana’s conversations with Nani, her grandmother, really hits you in the feelings and shows that older generations can be accepting of their loved one’s identities.
Overall, I couldn’t get enough of The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali. The story, the setting and characters sucked me in, and I could not put this book down. I, of course, gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.