Originally published August 2018
You can love your family with all your might, but no matter: someone’s still going to be pissed they didn’t get those Air Jordans in fourth grade or their grandpa’s heirloom watch.
Debut author Fatima Farheen Mirza’s “A Place for Us” is a story for all of us, regardless of our station in life, the color of our skin or the god we pray to. Because it’s about the ties that bind, and all of their imperfections. Turns out, nobody is perfect. Well, almost no one. For once, the middle kid might be the odd man out in a good way.
Mirza illustrates the arc of a Muslim family, headed up by Rafiq and Layla, married through an arrangement and supplanted on the West Coast in a Muslim community in California. Both traditionalists, they raise three children in the only way they know how, in the face of cultural forces at odds with their respective realities.
Hadia, Huda and Amar are navigating their youth and adolescence trying their best to please both their parents and their own personal interests, which includes following their own dreams and the ability to love someone of their own choosing. For Hadia, the oldest, she’s charting a new course for her siblings to follow, all while studying as hard as she can in order to be able to leave home and find her own way. Amar, the youngest and only son, struggles to find some sense of approval from his father, given he has to work four times as hard as his sister in school. And Huda? For once, being the middle kid and largely ignored is probably an OK thing, as any guilt she has over the family’s tenuous situation is fairly minimal.
What I particularly loved about “A Place for Us” is that readers are treated to nearly everyone’s perspective. And that those perspectives are often skewed and not always based in fact. For Hadia, her recollection of childhood and how Amar was treated is entirely different from his, and vice versa. The same goes for Rafiq and Layla, and how they proceeded in parenting upon learning Amar was in love with someone he’d likely never be accepted by. And sadly, it’s this predicament that might possibly be the catalyst in Amar’s undoing.
Low self-esteem is a bitch. And no one is free from blame when it comes to feeding that devil. Which is why it’s so important to starve it as often as possible. Readers are left to imagine an epilogue, post-soliloquy from Rafiq — most likely, not the happiest of endings, but certainly, and honest one.
Great read —totally engaged, pretty intense family drama. And an eye-opening peek into the lives of Muslim Americans.