review by Sylvie Bower, age 16
That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim
That Thing We Call a Heart is the story of Shabnam, a Pakistani-American girl, during her last summer in New Jersey before going to Penn. She isn’t speaking to her best friend, who’s recently started wearing a hijab, and is trapped by a lie she told about what happened to her family in the Partition. Everything changes when she meets Jamie at her new job selling pies in the park, and over some delicious pies and Urdu poetry, she falls in love. However, this isn’t really a love story, as over the course of the book Sheba Karim explores what it means to be Muslim and a woman, what really happened during the Partition, and the importance of all relationships, not just romantic ones.
I absolutely adored this book. Shabnam’s narration is hilarious, and provides a welcome contrast to the image of Muslims that we usually think of. Shabnam is not particularly religious, while her best friend, Farah, wears a hijab and goes to mosque regularly. However, even Farah isn’t how we would define a “traditional Muslim” as she wears a nontraditional hijab and smokes weed. A large part of why I loved this book is that it shows that there is no one right way to be Muslim, particularly for women who are often criticized for not being “Muslim enough” or being “too Muslim.” I loved Shabnam’s family, even through all their faults. I loved her father, who is charmingly distracted, and whose knowledge of Urdu poetry was incredibly interesting. Even though she originally only starts to talk to her father about poetry because of a boy, by the end of the book, Shabnam comes to better understand her father, and helps him to be a better husband. Her relationship with her mother was devastating, as she never feels that she can truly open up to her, and consistently takes her for granted; but, by the end of the book, Shabnam understands and appreciates her mother a little more. Out of all her relationships, I hated the one she had with Jamie the most. He is only interested in her exoticness, and never sees her for who she is. I think that Karim did this intentionally, to show that romantic love is not the most important. The real focus of this book is on Shabnam’s relationships with her family and Farah, and how she rebuilds them.
Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for books that better capture what it means to be a Muslim. 4.5/5 stars.
Find this book in our catalog: That Thing We Call a Heart
Catalog Number: On Call