That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim (Review)

reviews by lauren

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Title: That Thing We Call A Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Publisher: HarperTeen

Rating: ★★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free copy via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Shabnam is a Pakistani-American teen, just finishing up high school when her friendship with her feisty BFF Farah begins to unravel when Farah starts to wear a headscarf without consulting Shabnam. Shabnam starts to make some kind of bad decisions – from kissing the most racist boy in school to telling a huge lie about her family and the partition of India. The end of her school year is really starting to suck; but now Shabnam needs to get through the summer before college. Things start looking up when she meets the charming and romantic Jamie who gets her a job at his Aunt’s pie shack for the summer. Shabnam starts discovering her first love, Urdu poetry, and begins to repair her friendship with Farah – and with Farah’s help, Shabnam discovers the truth about Jamie, and in turn, learns about the important of friendship and love in all it’s forms.

I really loved That Thing We Call A Heart. It deals with so many issues but it’s done so seamlessly. It’s about love and friendship, heartbreak, family, Urdu poetry, and forgotten history. Not to mention the characters are so well developed. I loved our protagonist Shabnam, and I especially loved Farah – our badass, hijab wearing, feminist BFF.

Whilst romance is pretty big chunk of the book, That Thing We Call A Heart is definitely a book that explores love between friends and family. I loved her friendship with Farah. At times, Shabnam is a bad friend – she’s selfish, and not exactly a good listener. When her best friend Farah starts wearing a headscarf, Shabnam is not exactly understanding; subconsciously, she starts to distance herself from Farah. I absoloutely adored Farah – she’s empowering, feminist, funny, feisty and I would absolutely read a book dedicated solely to her. Thankfully, as the book progresses, Shabnam develops and repairs her relationship with Farah and realises how selfish she was being.

Additionally, I adored her relationship with her parents. I loved her affectionate and caring mother, and I even enjoyed her passionate, yet lazy, father. I especially loved how Shabnam and her father connected over their love of Urdu poetry – it was definitely a lovely addition. I’m a sucker for loving and supporting familial relationships so this book is everything I look for in contemporary YA.

And last but not least, there’s lots of talk of what it’s like to be a contemporary Muslim girl, defying conventional stereotypes, what’s it’s like to be a hijab-wearing Muslim girl and how that doesn’t necessarily = good Muslim girl.

“I’m too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims. And the weird thing is, I realized I’ve been trying to prove to people that I’m cool, that yeah, I don’t drink and whatever but I’m smart and funny and extremely un-oppressed, but I wonder, at the end of the day, will they secretly think a girl in hijab can never be that cool simply because she wears hijab? But then I think, why does it matter what they think of me? I refuse to spend my life proving myself, not to the Muslims, not to the non-Muslims. I’m going to wear a headscarf and I’m going to pray and fast and I’m going to smoke ganja and I’m going to get into Harvard Medical School.”

There’s also discussions on the Partition of India and the Bosnian Genocide, two often forgotten parts of history.

This book is a real gem. It tackles so many important relevant issues and I think it’s messages about love and identity will resonate with a lot of readers.


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12484813Lauren is a british blogger and book reviewer. She is an avid bookworm, writer and procrastinator extraordinaire. A recent history grad, Lauren is currently grappling with adulthood, finding solace in the written word. As an avid reader of YA literature, she’s a lover of sci-fi, contemporary romance, sister stories, and cute f/f books. Some of her favourite books include Code Name Verity by the incredibly talented Elizabeth Wein, and the soul-crushingly cute The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli.


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