Title: I Am Thunder
Author: Muhammad Khan
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: January 25th 2018
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
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?
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
“YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT MANY MUSLIM AUTHORS DO YOU?
YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT MUSLIMS PERIOD. UNLESS IT’S TO DO WITH SOMETHING BAD.”
One month into 2018 and I can confidently say that I Am Thunder will be one of my favourite reads of the year. A raw and honest account of radicalisation in the UK, I’m not sure whether the extent to which I could relate to Muzna’s experiences is a positive or negative thing. Having witnessed first-hand my own teachers refusing to address the gaping absence of a student who fled to Syria over Christmas break, I’m glad Muhammad Khan (who is also a teacher) is choosing to discuss such a prevalent issue in our schools and societies.
The narrative voice that Khan adopts is incredibly authentic, with the seamless use of slang allowing for an honest portrayal of his teenage protagonist, Muzna. I appreciate the spin the author put on the radicalisation story by narrating from the female perspective. Too often, radicalisation is a topic we only talk about in relation to Muslim boys – but what about the girls?
All in all, I had conflicting feelings about Muzna but her character development was commendable. At the start of the novel, I was pretty much internally screaming at her because who doesn’t cover their webcam(!?) but she really grew on me – with her passion for storytelling (I want to read that book about FGM) and her commitment to educating herself about her misunderstood religion. I also screamed when Arif made the distinction between what was religion and what was culture. Though he was a bit extreme at times (no pun intended), Arif was a great addition to the diverse cast of characters who greatly reflected the multiculturalism of high schools in Britain.
“NO HASHTAG, NO FILTER, NO SOLIDARITY.”
Despite my praises, the book does not come without its faults. There is some ableist language used throughout as well as fat-shaming and body hair-shaming. Though the latter is deeply rooted in cultural ideologies, it was a shame to see it used as part of the romance storyline since Muzna can’t believe the gorgeous Arif is interested in her despite her ‘flaws.’ The romantic element was one I didn’t really enjoy, and I genuinely had this intense fear Muzna was a lovesick puppy who would run away to Syria as Arif’s jihadi bride. Maybe this does actually happen. I won’t say for the sake of avoiding spoilers but that’s how real the story felt.
Overall, this is a timely debut that spoke to me on so many different levels. Khan really captures just how vulnerable young Muslim teenagers are to the influence of extremist ideologies and I thoroughly believe you will finish this book with a renewed perspective. The author’s decision to bring the issue of radicalisation to the forefront of our dialogues is incredibly inspiring. I’m excited to see the reactions it yields from a wider audience.