That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim is one of the top books I’ve read so far in 2017 and a new favorite YA contemporary! It was released yesterday, so I wanted to share a bit more about it (in addition to my review). Thank you so much to Sheba for stopping by my blog to share her thoughts on writing this wonderful book!

About the Author:

My next young adult novel, That Thing We Call a Heart, received a Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews and is out in May 2017 from HarperTeen, an imprint of Harper Collins.  It features complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and is set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry.  You can read more about it here.

My third YA novel, The Road Trip Effect, about  three South Asian American best friends who embark upon a road trip through the South, will be out in 2018 from HarperTeen.  My first novel was Skunk Girl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR 2009).

I edited the anthology Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Short Stories 2 (Tranquebar Press, 2012). My work has appeared in 580 Split, Asia Literary Review, Barn Owl Review, Femina, Off Assignment, Shenandoah, South Asian Review, The, Time Out Delhi and in several anthologies in the United States and India, including Baker’s Dozen: The Elle-Tranquebar Book of Short Stories, Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance, Electric Feather and Love Like That and Other Stories.

I’m also working on a historical fiction novel about a 13th century Muslim queen. I have an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and have done residencies at Hedgebrook, Ledig House, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and The Millay Colony for the Arts. I am represented by Ayesha Pande Literary.

I was raised in the lovely land of Rip Van Winkle, went to college in Philly, spent a long time living in New York City, a shorter time living in New Delhi and am now based in Nashville, TN.

Book Synopsis:

Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Author Q&A:

• Which scene in That Thing We Call a Heart was your favorite to write?
Any scene with Farah because she was one of those ‘breath of fresh air’ characters that I loved spending time with.  I especially liked the scene where she, Shabnam and Jamie hang out for the first time, the tension and humor in that scene was super fun to play around with.  The conversations between Shabnam and her father was some of my favorite scenes as well; it’s very freeing to write scenes involving a character who doesn’t necessarily follow social conventions.

• What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Playing with my daughter, cooking, reading, taking walks, watching something on Netflix (I’m currently into Gracie and Frankie, so nice to see a show about the lives of older women!).

• What’s your dream writers retreat location?
My favorite place to write is Northern New Mexico.  I’ve spent some time writing in a small town between Taos and Santa Fe.  The scenery and the sky are incredibly beautiful, and there’s a general vibe of expansive creative energy.

• Who would you cast in the movie version of your book?
That’s a tough one as there still aren’t a ton of South Asian actors in Hollywood, though it is getting better. I envision Shabnam would be played by an up and coming South Asian American actress. I recently saw Shazi Raja in the “Museebat” episode of High Maintenance and think she would make a great Farah. Maybe Anunpam Kher at the father, and Archie Punjabi (The Good Wife) or Poorna Jagannathan (The Night Of) as the mother.  As for Jamie, maybe Ezra Miller with lighter hair or Douglas Booth.

• What’s one of the best books you read last year?
In YA, I loved If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan – how often do you get to read a novel with an LGBTQ protagonist set in Tehran?  In non-YA, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates was such an important, thought-provoking and moving book.

• Any advice to young authors looking to be published?
Be prepared for rejection, it’s part of becoming a writer.  Listen carefully to people’s critiques of your work while trying to stay true to your voice.  Don’t sweat your first drafts too much; the book will really start to take shape in your subsequent revisions.

Thanks so much for sharing & congratulations on your new book!

Check it out on Goodreads & Amazon.


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