Sabina Khan increases diversity in teen literature

Khan modeled the story after her own culture.

Khan modeled the story after her own culture.

Literature over the last decade has become more diverse as the world becomes accepting. An increasing number of LGBTQ+ books have been published in the last decade; in a study by Marinda Lo, the number of LGBTQ+ young adult novels rose from 54 novels published in 2015, to 79 novels in 2016. While the increase may seem insignificant, but when compared to 2010 when less than 20 LGBTQ+ young adult novels were published, progress is evident.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan is about teenage girl who is a Bengali lesbian. She struggles to gain the acceptance of her family as a result of their cultural beliefs. This book is more unique than others as the main character is a minority, as well as LGBTQ+, which is even rarer. Despite an interesting concept, there were also some things that made the book hard to get through.

There are unique aspects of this book that really serve to further the central ideas. In addition to having an LGBTQ+ focus, the novel is centered around a Bengali family. There are about 250 million Bengali citizens, but there are very few novels about Bengali people and their culture. The majority of books that portray Bengal’s culture are written in Bangla, the language of Bengal, limiting Western civilization’s exposure to these people.

In addition to portraying Bengali culture, the novel explains and shows the differences between Bengali, Urdu and Hindi. Bengali is a nationality, and is used to describe the language spoken and the culture in West Bengal. Hindi is a description of people and the culture  surrounding the religion Hinduism. Urdu is a language. It is the official language spoken in Pakistan but is also widely spoken in India.

These concepts are often times confused and interchanged within Western societies, as American students learn very little about geography and foreign governments so Pakistan, India and West Bengal are not clear and distinct. In addition to that, the majority of students in the U.S. are not taught in depth about Asian countries and their cultures, besides China, India and Japan. Thus Khan ensuring that readers understand the difference between the three concepts makes the book more powerful in regards to religious and ethnic representation as the main character is Hindi and Bengali.

Also making this book unique were all the real world scenarios that exist. Having a teenager who struggles with her family’s beliefs, some problems with the arranged marriage system often seen in Indian culture and interracial relationships. While arranged marriages impact less people, the other problems this book faces are universal, making it easier for more people beyond the LGBTQ+ and Eastern and South Asian audiences.

One of the things Khan does well is not overloading the novel with side-plots. While a lot of people are introduced, the majority of them are insignificant. There are three storylines which is a perfect number, one to deal with each problem the novel faces.

By organizing the plot structure this way, Khan ensures that the audience comprehends the purpose of the story. Plus the side-plots are not all happening simultaneously, making the story easy to follow and allows people to remain engaged with each side-plot.

Despite adoring what this book represents, there are some elements that if written differently would have made the plot more realistic, therefore more enjoyable. For example, throughout the book characters who have been best friends for years suddenly do not understand the situation she’s in with her family.

Truly good friends that have been around since elementary school would never suddenly think strict parents are going to change. These friends would be understanding and sympathetic. It is clear that Khan uses the characters’ shift to judgemental of her situation is to drive Rukhsana’s loneliness but this really does nothing for the novel, therefore making it seem unnecessary.

The novel also promotes unhealthy romantic behaviors. For example, Rukhsana and Ariana, her girlfriend, base their college plans off of their current relationship. This is not an idea Khan should portray to teenagers. Choosing a college should be for reasons beyond a current partner, the school has to be truly great because according to Brandon Gaille Marketing, only two percent of marriages are from a high school relationship, and the divorce rate during the first ten years for these couples is 54 percent.

The last major thing was that running from problems was a tragic flaw of Rukhsana’s. Khan established Rukhsana as a strong willed and passionate person who fights for what she believes in, but when it comes to dealing with familial issues, she runs away at the first sign of trouble.

There are other little things that are slightly irksome. I don’t regret reading the book, but I don’t think I would reread the book given the opportunity. I do think others should read this even if just to learn about another culture. The book is 326 pages, so it is not too long.