• Page Count: 288
  • Release Date: May 9, 2017
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • My Rating: 5 stars

Book Description:

That Thing We Call a Heart 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.


My Thoughts:

This was a coming-of-age story that takes place during Shabnam Qureshia’s last summer before college. When Shabnam’s best friend Farah starts wearing hijab they begin to drift apart. Shabnam hates all of the attention where everything is now focused on Islam, so she doesn’t always support her friend in public. Farah “worried that if she was too rude or sarcastic [people] might walk away with a bad impression of a religion that already had enough negative press. But this also meant she had to suppress her natural impulses, and it made her less fun.”

Farah fashions her headscarf into Princess Leia buns, wears a scarf with raised fists, has a totally unique sense of style, and is just unapologetically herself. She’s an amazingly inspirational feminist and I’d love to have a whole other book with her rants:

“I’m too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims… but then I think, why does it matter what they think of me? I refuse to spend my life proving myself… I’m going to wear a headscarf and I’m going to pray and fast and I’m going to smoke ganja and I’m going to get into Harvard Medical School.”

“Rapunzel, my ass. I’ve got barbed wire and a moat around this tower.”

“That’s why guys get away with being shitheads, because their baseline is so goddamn low, even lower if they’re cute. Oh, you’d never date rape me? Awesome! Oh, you actually listened to something I said without talking over me? You’re such a great guy!”

At the start of the story Shabnam is embarrassed to be seen with her great-uncle who wears a black vest & shalwar kameez and has a long beard. While she’s avoiding being seen with him at the mall she meets a random cute guy. Those two end up spending the summer working at a pie stand and Shabnam falls in love super fast like a Bollywood movie. (I wasn’t that into the romance, but luckily it’s NOT the cliche summer YA love story at all).

Shabnam’s socially awkward mathematician father has a deep love for Urdu poetry and they grow closer throughout the story by discussing it. I adored her father and all of the other scenes of ordinary moments like the Bosnian men playing cards in the donut shop. (PS I neeeeed a donut shop like that to be near me).

This story really is about different types of love — friendship, families, and romantic. All of the discussion of Sufi poets & love was SO well done, too. I think I might have been so enthusiastically into this story because it involved several topics I really care about (I’ve spent a lot of time studying the Bosnian genocide, Partition, and Sufi poets, so that was a solid blend for me). Those discussions were really powerful and so, so important. But at the same time I think this story is just straight up relatable no matter what!! If you know nothing about those topics, this would be an amazing place to start.

The writing is really strong and gives Shabnam’s narration a totally genuine and lovable tone. It was refreshing to see such casual & open discussions about love, sex, how people say ignorant things, body odor, religion, etc because it made all of the characters totally realistic. And the book feels like a character study, which actually worked really well because characters themselves are what make this book so utterly charming and powerful. I had to stop reading halfway through and preorder a finished copy because I was so into this story!

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC. These quotes were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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