Published February 8, 2022 by Inkyard Press.
There is something incredibly heartfelt and tender about Laila Sabreen’s debut novel You Truly Assumed, and I believe it develops out of the passion and innocence our three main characters exhibit. This book makes a choice to venture into the repercussions of terrorism and the associated Islamophobia by starting off the story with a terror attack near The Capitol in Washington, DC. What sets it apart and makes it a fascinating read is that firstly, it has three female, Black, Muslim characters, which makes it beautifully intersectional, and secondly, it is set in the YA genre. There continues to be a dearth of writings about how the youth of our generation feel about massive political events and how such prejudices impact and reverberate in their lives. This story is a serious attempt to shine a light on those prejudices.
When reading up on the significance of decolonizing literature, one thing that comes up over and over again is the impact it has on representation. As a woman of color, I too grew up devouring books in which I couldn’t identify with any characters and it makes me happy that there will be young adults who will find stories where women of color take center stage. Our three powerful leads—Sabriya, Zakat, and Farah—are all Black and Muslim. While all young women, they are portrayed as individuals, with their own desires and faults, and this makes Sabreen’s writing much more thoughtful and a better representation of the real world.
Sabriya grows up in a mixed-religious family, while Zakat comes from a town that has a strong presence of a Muslim community. Farah is brought up by a single mother and has difficult ties with her father. Each of our characters is taking their own journey but they still connect with each other powerfully and sincerely. The bedrock of these ties remains the blog that they have created together to share their experiences of being Black and Muslim and offering that same opportunity to express themselves to people from those very communities. In the same story, we are covering a range of ideas from the identity crisis that they go through, to the importance of having strong community ties, to how that strengthens them and keeps them grounded. We also get to know about their dreams, the fears that haunt them, and the hopes that keep them going.
Our characters are brought together by Sabriya’s written reflections about the terror attack, which when left on her blog site, becomes viral. This is where the title of the novel comes from—the blog is named “You Truly Assumed.” Zakat and Farah soon join in to offer their own unique talents to elevate the blog, which continues to grow. Each of them feels the aftermath of the terror attack in different ways, but in spite of that, they make space for each other’s narratives and recognize what brings them together. They learn what makes them the same as they start this journey to make Black, Muslim women feel seen and heard. I also like how this story plays with the use of technology and social media, which at present has become a powerful, omnipresent tool to build and sustain connections among people across states, countries, and even continents.
When writing about young adults, we can’t ever forget the passion that drives them in the face of the problems of adolescence. Adults can intellectualize or desensitize themselves in the face of hurt, fear, and pain. Our characters here are thoughtful, kind, strong, and so incredibly brave. They are falling in love, mending friendships, renewing their faith in families while at the same time tackling this massive, painful burden of Islamophobia. They carry the larger picture in their heads and there is so much passion in their actions to make a difference. They truly believe that they can change the world.
One might complain about how the narrative—even when working with such a heavy topic—has a very simple arc. Our characters engage in seemingly small acts of fighting against prejudice and discrimination and standing up for themselves. They have difficult conversations with racists, challenge discriminatory behavior, and attempt to go to a vigil for someone from their community. But isn’t that what we want to tell our youth? That your voice matters, what you feel matters, and every small step you take towards fighting what feels overpowering matters?
It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book feeling hopeful and inspired, even excited. I am looking forward to the impact that this book is going to leave on our young people, how it will kickstart sensitive discussions on the histories that Black, Muslim people live with, as well as the intersectionality of struggles, especially those that have to do with identity politics. It is far from the simple and linear trajectory that people like to believe and it has a deep-seated impact on the day-to-day lives of those identifying with marginalized communities.
While many YA books are full of humor and the lighter things of life, it takes an incredible amount of thoughtfulness and sensitivity to mesh the genre with the serious, overpowering, and challenging. Sabreen skillfully manages to do just that. She reminds us that if you truly believe in the cause you are fighting for, all you have to do is take a step in that direction, no matter how small. She reminds us of the power we hold, the importance of having faith in our voices and stories, and how much all of it matters. This is exactly what the youth of today need to hear and this is exactly what You Truly Assumed tells us.