When I first heard that a “Muslim love story” was on the horizon, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. Knowing that Na’ima B. Robert would be taking on this task only filled me with confidence. This is the author that brought you the inspirational From My Sisters’ Lips, the heart-wrenching Far From Home and the thought-provoking Black Sheep. Unafraid of controversy and depth, Na’ima B. Robert brings you her latest novel for Young Adults, She Wore Red Trainers.
With my Young Adult years not so far behind me, I can confidently and unashamedly recall the sheer number of Young Adult romance novels I devoured on a weekly basis. With my childhood surrounded by the Disney princesses of my time, I was no stranger to drifting off into a fantasy land with my prince on his noble steed sweeping me off my feet. Unfortunately, once I hit my teens, I believed this fantasy land to be just that – a fantasy. Like most of my peers, we saw the windswept romance of movies and novels to be an enjoyment for non-Muslims. With what we saw as suffocating and almost impractical rules and regulations surrounding any attempt at finding love, we didn’t believe a heart-fluttering romance to be achievable.
Yet, when my own journey towards a halal marriage began, it was filled with all the flutterings and excitement I wanted. The limitations we faced only sweetened the freedom found after the Nikah was performed. Love flourished after the wedding, in the secure happiness of marriage.
All of this has lead me to feel very strongly about the need for a book such as She Wore Red Trainers. At a time when our youth feel increasingly restricted within the bounds of their faith, it is important to show them the halal way to actually get what they want. She Wore Red Trainers does just that; in a beautiful narrative, the reader experiences the anticipations and excitements from both Amirah and Ali. In keeping to their deen, they know they can’t mix together or chat together with the freedom they would prefer.
Described as “a modern-day Romeo and Juliet” in The Guardian, She Wore Red Trainers draws similarities with its Shakespearean comparison in the sense that the characters must maneuver the rules they live by in such a way as to achieve their desire: to be together. Unlike Romeo and Juliet however, Amirah and Ali face obstacles very similar, if not equal to the obstacles faced by many members of our Muslim society, such as family politics and limited contact with each other. Unfortunately, it has come to the point where many feel they have to choose between their deen and finding love. She Wore Red Trainers challenges this mentality.
A feature of this book that makes it a beautifully engaging read is the fact that Ali’s and Amirah’s lives do not completely (and unrealistically) revolve around each other. They both have their own lives and their own personal battles facing them each day – Ali’s recent loss of his mother and Amirah’s heavy responsibilities at home by caring for her mother and siblings. In a way, this paints a wonderfully accurate picture of married life. Once married, it is not happily ever after. There will be obstacles, there will be battles, there will be difficult situations that make life that much more challenging. The solace is in your spouse. The beauty is finding your way towards your companion amongst the trials and disappointments of life. Life is not a fairytale, but happiness, love and contentment do exist in reality.
What astounds me most about this magnificent book is the points of view Na’ima has chosen to work from. If we take a look at the famous love stories that have hit the mainstream shelves, we find the narrative either restrictive to one point of view (the boy’s or the girl’s) or void of personal touch through a third person narrative. Though subtle, Na’ima’s choice of granting access to both Ali and Amirah’s inner thoughts about the situation provides an insight that only adds to the excitement for the reader, also making this book accessible for readers in general, and not just for Young Adult girls.
For the older readers out there, I implore you to pick up this book. Let it help you understand the thoughts, concerns and humour that runs through the minds of the younger generation. I pray this book paves the way in bridging the gap between parents and children, enabling them both with the understanding necessary to successfully find a spouse.
This book review was originally published in SISTERS Magazine, issue #61, October 2014. Order your copy here!