I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on January 25th 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there's prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice - keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

A stunning new YA voice which questions how far you'll go to protect what you believe in.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I often say I’m not much of a contemporary reader, but I knew I wanted to read I Am Thunder as soon as I heard about it.  I grew up in a city with a huge, diverse, multi-cultural population. If you were asked to think of a city with a large Asian population, I can guarantee it would be one of your first guesses.  There are plenty of people in the city who care a lot more about the things they have in common – a shared hometown, a common favourite food, a TV show they both love, whatever.  Sadly, as with anywhere, there are also people who can’t see beyond the things that make us different.  In my city at least, the hate language often isn’t targeted at Muslims specifically, but blindly at anyone who ‘looks Asian’.  As a white, non-religious woman, I’ve never been on the receiving end, but I’ve had friends and co-workers who’ve reveived exactly the kind of abuse Muzna gets in I am Thunder.   I Am Thunder addresses real world issues that should be talked about more – stereotypes, prejudice, racism and extremism – and is one of the very few YA books I’ve come across that have a Muslim protagonist.

The book feels authentic the whole way through. Khan is a teacher, so the interactions between the teens and their responses to things feel believable, complete with slang language.  This is one of the novel’s strengths, as well as a possible weakness: the teens sound like current British teens, making it feel believable, but may put off readers from elsewhere and the language may not age well, so that’s a thing to bear in mind.

It was cruel to bring me up in Britain, make me go to school with British kids, then expect me to act like a girl from back home. Outside of having brown skin, speaking the language, and half-heartedly cheering the cricket team on with Dad, I had no real idea of what it meant to be Pakistani.

Muzna is a great character.  She worries about the expected teen problems: worrying about her weight and her looks, wondering what to do with her life, feeling torn between the strict rules her parents put on her and her desire to fit in at school.  On top of that, and the concerns that come with starting at a new school, she begins to fall for a boy who’s extreme views of the world have her questioning everything.  She’s not ashamed of her Pakistani heritage, but she does feel removed from it, having grown up in Britain.  She feels like it makes her a target – and indeed, sadly it does.  The way she slowly gets drawn in by Arif and his extremist views is believable, and her sympathetic nature makes her struggle with what to do both plausible and emotional.  There may be moments when you curse her for being easily drawn in, and I personally wasn’t convinced by the love interest, but it felt like she made normal teenage decisions – some good, some bad but none forced for the sake of plot. She’s flawed but likable, and is definitely the star of the novel. The she supporting characters weren’t as strong, but they were believable enough.  Arif is interesting, although I felt the twist at the end was a bit unecessary – he’d have been believable enough without it.

“Tough though innit? Black man commits a crime, people say he’s a gangbanger. If it’s a muslim, he’s a-”
“Terrorist.” I interrupted.
He nodded. “But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a ‘lone wolf’, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues.”

I love the way Khan talks about the differences between culture and religion, as well as the fact that there are many different ways people follow their religion.  I Am Thunder will make you furious at the society we live in and the pernicious prejudice Muzna faces every day, as it should.  It has witty, funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and poignant, heartbreaking moments.  It has empowering moments that will make you cheer for Muzna and inspire you.  I flew through the novel in a day, and it’s definitely one I’ll be re-reading eventually, because it deserves to be really thought about and considered.  While it isn’t necessarily a perfect novel, it’s powerful, it’s emotional and above all it is necessary – it deserves to be applauded and should be on everyone’s TBR.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Remade

Review: RemadeRemade by Alex Scarrow
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on June 16th 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: From the publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

Leon and his younger sister, Grace, have recently moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa begin to fill the news. Within a week the virus hits London. The siblings witness people turning to liquid before their eyes, and they run for their lives. A month after touching Earth's atmosphere the virus has assimilated the world's biomass. But the virus isn't their only enemy, and survival is just the first step . . .

When I read it…

I read this in 24 hours, across June 2nd and 3rd.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Less than nothing – I’ve never read any of Scarrow’s other works, and none of my friends have either so I knew nothing going in.  The blurb on the proof copy was suitably vague, so basically I knew: scary virus.  And that was enough for me to know I had to pick it up!

What worked for me:

  • The pacing: From the second I picked this up, I was absolutely hooked.  The story picks up steam pretty quickly, and it keeps an intense pace throughout that made it pretty much my priority for every free second I had while I was reading it.
  • Leon: I found Leon really easy to relate to: his awkwardness, his frustration, his obsessive googling and anxiety… I connected with Leon straight away.
  • The atmosphere: Remade was eerie.  It made me want to take up running, learn survival skills and build an underground bunker.  Scarrow has painted perfectly a picture of today’s world, which made the spread of the virus and the media suppression of details so much more tense and disturbing.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The supporting characters: I’m big on characters, and the nature of the virus means this is a book with a rather small cast.  Aside from Leon, who I adored, Grace, who I alternated between liking and hating, and their dad, who I liked, I didn’t really connect with any of the other characters.  The small cast in Remade meant it wasn’t as big a deal as it could have been in say a book with multiple points of view or a huge cast, but as a character-focused person it’s still a little disappointing.

Remade was an addictive, intense book that I just could not put down.  A great start to the series, and you can bet I’ll be looking for a copy of book 2 when it comes out!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star