Published by Hot Key Books on January 16th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Diversity, Own Voices
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A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape--perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.
Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a "suitable" Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City--and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she's only known from afar. There's the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya's last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?
When a book arrives with a letter from the author, saying that she wrote this book so that somewhere, someone could relate, I was already curious. Love, Hate and Other Filters tackles topics of Islamophobia, racism, religion and the cultural experience of an Indian teen who just wants to fit in.
There are two distinct parts to Love, Hate and Other Filters – the first, a cute contemporary romance that features Maya struggling with her parental expectations of her studying to become a doctor/lawyer. The second covers a terrorist attack in a public place with a suspected Islamic suicide bomber, where Maya and her family have to deal with racism and hate crimes. I loved how the book comfortably skirted between being incredibly cute and fluffy (not to mention relatable), and covering harder topics when it comes to terrorism and racism.
Unrealistic parental expectations
“This is our karma for raising you with these…these American values”.
I enjoyed the portrayal of Maya’s family and the unrealistic expectations that her parents heap upon her. They want her to go to a good school to become a doctor or a lawyer, to simultaneously marry a rich/handsome guy (who can only be Indian) while being devout to her religion. Maya’s experience, particularly where she rebels against her parent’s wishes were reflective of myself when I was her age – struggling with fitting into the Western way of living while standing up to her parents when they weren’t being particularly understanding.
Whether it’s from an Indian or Asian background, many of us have struggled against the same expectations placed upon Maya, particularly as second generation immigrants. While we appreciate everything our parents have sacrificed and given us, admittedly honouring our own culture and religion can sometimes be hard when everyone else in the Western world doesn’t understand. For example, there’s a scene in the book where Maya’s parents threaten to disown her if she chooses to go to college in New York, rather than staying close by and living at home. This may seem extreme to some, but this is something that actually happened to myself when I moved out of home in my mid-20s (with my boyfriend of 7 years, now my husband). Asian parents threatening this is actually not uncommon and the good news is they came around eventually.
Pursuing your passion
The other thing I loved about Love, Hate and Other Filters, is how Maya immersed herself in filming and videography. This is something that gives her joy, despite the expectations placed upon her for what she should actually be doing (based on what everyone else thinks).
Like book blogging/social media/writing is my passion, I felt Maya so much in those moments when she wondered whether she should pursue it further. There is something to be said for choosing your passion over practicality and it was clear how much she loved photography. I mean, why bother doing something else she doesn’t fully have her heart set on? Definitely has me questioning my own life’s choices.
Dating someone outside of your culture
Isn’t it funny how traditional parents expect you to marry someone within your own culture, when there’s a world of so many other cultures out there? In Love, Hate and Other Filters, Maya is introduced to an Indian boy Kareem, who is every bit the handsome, charismatic son-in-law that your parents could dream of. What I loved about this, is that Maya does give him a chance, even if it is out of her own curiosity rather than her family’s encouragement, and she soon learns that there’s no spark. There’s no point being with someone just because your parents want you to, and it’s definitely something that she has to figure out on her own.
In contrast, there’s Phil, the white American boy who is suddenly taking a notice in her. So much goes through her head when it comes to what her parents will think of him, whether he will like her, or understand her cultural heritage and her religion. Although the romance was a little bit cheesy, I liked how it was built on friendship and communication, and how they clearly liked spending time together.
Racism and terrorism
At first, the seemingly unrelated interludes between the chapters were kind of distracting, but they all lead to an unfortunate event occurring from the point of view of a terrorist. When a suspected suicide bomber is Islamic, Maya and her family deal with racism, hate crimes and violence at school, at work and even in public. The fear of your own safety and not feeling safe in your own home is very real for many, with this quote highlighting those feelings:
The world outside paints us all as terrorists. I’m blamed for events that have nothing to do with me. And all I want is to make movies and kiss a boy.
It’s definitely an eye-opening experience, especially with how the events around this crime unfolds with seemingly little to no consequences for the aftermath.
All #ownvoices representation is valid & important
When it comes to representation, it’s so important to have #ownvoices books published from authors who can share their own life experience with others. When I was growing up, there weren’t ANY books that featured Asian cultural representation in a Western world. I’m so glad that more books like Love, Hate and Other Filters are getting published, which young Indian Muslims or even other cultural identities can relate to.
Although Love, Hate and Other Filters certainly isn’t reflective of all Indian Muslim teens, I didn’t want to hold it to those particular standards. As it’s told from the own author’s experience, I definitely think their own experience is valid. Not everyone can or will have exactly the same experience and diverse books aren’t about pleasing everyone. The inherent problem lies within the publishing industry – there are so few diverse books covering particular representations that when there is one, it’s destined to disappoint some. My only hope is that the more diverse books there are, the less expectations are heaped upon them and we can simply enjoy the books for what they are – an author’s story.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and Hot Key Books for sending me a review copy!
Love, Hate and Other Filters is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.