Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is the second book that I have read by Sheba Karim the other book being This Thing We Call a Heart. As with the other book, I find myself a bit torn. I didn't love it the way that I thought I would. I had it preordered for weeks if that tells you about my anticipation.
On the one hand, I appreciate that she writes about secular Muslim characters. I don't think that I have read any other author write characters like these. This is the very rare post-first-year of college YA which we don't see enough of. It is also a road trip book with teens who are not lily white which is basically like finding a unicorn. On the other hand, I didn't like most the main characters.
I feel the same about the writing. There is a roughness about it that I find unpleasant. I would be reading along, "Oh, hey, this book is funny and kind of cute." and WHAM there would be some over the top crude joke often involving bodily functions or something unnecessarily sexually explicit. Is it me? Am I just prissy? Do I just have preconceived notions about how these teens should behave? Is my sense of humor just that different? Pooping, speculations about the feel of beards on labia (not my phrasing), nose picking and watching gay porn on the phone at an Islamic community function, are examples of the sophomoric humor that just does nothing for me. It seems forced.
This is #ownvoices representation of secular desi Muslim teens. I don't know how positive the representation will seem especially for Muslims or other desi readers who are more traditional, religious, or less culturally conflicted. There is drinking; there is sex, there is pork, there is SO MUCH LYING TO PARENTS. It made me sympathize with their parents. This was especially uncomfortable since Ghaz's parents were terrible and I in no way wanted to be on their side. Stop making me identify with the adults, Sheba!
I appreciated that all three main characters had such a different relationship with their parents. Mariam's almost too free and open friendship with her mother, Ghaz being unable to be the daughter her parents want and the complications her rejecting that personality has, and Umar who has a warm relationship with his parents that he fears will evaporate or explode when and if he finally becomes open about who he is.
There are some fantastic things about this book. The graceful handling of the difference between going on a road trip to the south as a white person and as a brown Muslim person and the difficulties of being at the intersection of several identities especially.
The best part of the book was the friendship between Mariam, Umar, and Ghaz. The love and support that they show one another even when they do not agree with one another's choices or always get along is admirable. We all need friends like that in our lives.
YMMV but I am ultimately glad that I read this in spite of my complaints, and I will most likely pick up Sheba Karim's next book.
The summer after her freshman year in college, Mariam is looking forward to working and hanging out with her best friends: irrepressible and beautiful Ghazala and religious but closeted Umar. But when a scandalous photo of Ghaz appears on a billboard in Times Square, Mariam and Umar come up with a plan to rescue her from her furious parents. And what better escape than New Orleans?
The friends pile into Umar's car and start driving south, making all kinds of pit stops along the way--from a college drag party to a Muslim convention, from alarming encounters at roadside diners to honky-tonks and barbeque joints.
Along with the adventures, the fun banter, and the gas station junk food, the friends have some hard questions to answer on the road. With her uncle's address in her pocket, Mariam hopes to learn the truth about her father (and to make sure she didn't inherit his talent for disappearing). But as each mile of the road trip brings them closer to their own truths, they know they can rely on each other, and laughter, to get them through.