She Wore Red Trainers – Na’ima B. Robert
February is a promising month, after dark and dreary January, which can often feel longer than its 31 days. Everything feels lighter and more hopeful. We are done with what Seamus Heaney calls wintering out and we emerge into Spring with renewed optimism.
The main characters in February’s Book of the Month have both been through what Amirah calls The Darkness. Her Mum is on marriage number 6 and is struggling with depression. Ali’s mother has died and his family is forced to leave the family home when his father’s business fails. When Ali’s family move onto the same estate as Amirah’s family and they meet, the attraction is instant but they are both “striving to keep it halal”, so their gazes are lowered and they move on. Ali is dealing with the loss of his mother by exploring his identity as a Muslim and Amirah has sworn never to marry.
Inevitably, their paths keep crossing and so develops a beautiful love story with two young Muslims at the centre of it. This is a viewpoint which is largely unexplored in YA fiction. You do need to buy into the classic tropes of romantic fiction to appreciate this tale but if you are prepared to do that, it’s a story that will lift your spirits.
As a reader who is not a member of the Muslim community, I learnt a lot about Islam from reading this book. I especially enjoyed referring to the glossary at the back of the book to understand the Arabic terms. For me, it opened a door to a different culture, one which relies on its religion in every circumstance to build courage and strength. I wish there were more books like this representing a diverse range of people going about their everyday lives.
This is an unapologetic romance with a tremendously life-affirming ending. Honestly, it’s one of the sweetest stories I’ve ever read. Even though it didn’t take long to read this book I still felt a huge connection to both Amirah and Ali and I thought about them for a long time after I’d finished reading. The perfect book to warm your heart in the month of love and romance.