Dessert, Poetry & An Unflinching Take on the Partition of India // REVIEW: That Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That  Thing We Call A Heart
Author: Sheba Karim
Publication Date: January 2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Part of a Series?: No, A Standalone
I Got A Copy Through: Bloomsbury India (THANK YOU!)
Buy Links: Amazon IN || Barnes and Noble || The Book Depository || Wordery || Kobo || Books A Million || Chapters Indigo || Google Books
Blurb Description: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.
Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying. 
With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.
Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman's explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.
There are certain books out there that you instantly connect with, and That Thing We Call a Heart is one of them. Sheba Karim’s unflinchingly real world resonated with me, so much so that I couldn’t put it down and read the whole thing within a few hours.

With honest, light writing, That Thing We Call a Heart masterfully tackles Islamism, what it means to be Muslim, first love, friendship and coming of age with a diverse cast and special focus on the Partition of India and Pakistan.

Like Shabnam, I too have relatives – both my maternal and paternal grandparents, actually – that survived the partition when they were just children, and I’ve grown up hearing the stories of their journey. Short history lesson: During the fight for independence, India was split into two countries – India and Pakistan for the Hindus and Muslims respectively. My Hindu family used to live on the land that today forms Pakistan and during the partition, had to leave behind their homes, their wealth and everything they knew to start afresh in India. The Partition is personal to me, and I love that this book handled it so masterfully, especially at the end.

Let’s break this down:

1.       That Thing We Call a Heart is a coming of age story narrated by Shabnam Qureshi during the summer between college and high school, and it deals expertly with what it means to be a Muslim, wear hijab, fall in love, grow with your family and the partition of India.

2.       My FAVOURITE character in this book was Shabnam’s best friend, Farah. She had an unflinching, unapologetic badass girl and I loved every minute of the book when she was in it. Here are some of the things she said that made me want to simply applaud her existence:

"I'm too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims... but then I think, why does it matter what they think of me? I refuse to spend my life proving myself... 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." 
"That's why guys get away with being shitheads, because their baseline is so goddamn low, even lower if they're cute. Oh, you'd never date rape me? Awesome! Oh, you actually listened to something I said without talking over me? You're such a great guy!"

3.       The Partition, through Shabnam’s great uncle was handled SO beautifully. It had me feeling, and remembering my grandparent’s recollections of their experience, which no book to date has ever made me do.


5.       I love LOVED Shabnam’s relationship with her parents and how it was developed through the book. Though it took me longer than one summer, I too didn’t have the best relationship with my parents years ago and we’ve worked on it and today, we’re open and honest with each other about pretty much everything, and I loved the development in this book.

6.       EXTRA POINTS FOR ALL THE GORGEOUS TRANSLATED URDU POETRY IN THIS BOOK. I’ve been gravitating towards poetry more and more recently, and I loved all the excerpts and references in That Thing We Call a Heart.

7.       I honestly haven’t begin to cover what this book made me feel, because it DID. It was authentic and real and it resonated with me and I can only implore you to experience the magic too.

If you’re looking for your next beautifully done diverse book, THIS IS THE ONE FOR YOU. 4.5 Stars.
Sheba KarimMy first young adult novel was Skunk Girl.  My second young adult novel, That Thing We Call a Heart, was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ ten Best Contemporary Teen Reads of 2017 as well as one of the Best Teen Books of 2017 with a Touch of Humor.  It features complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and is set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry.  You can read more about it hereMy third YA novel, Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, which follows the misadventures of three South Asian American best friends as they embark upon a road trip through the South, is out June 2018 from Harper Collins. I am represented by Ayesha Pande Literary
I was raised in the lovely land of Rip Van Winkle, went to college in Philly, spent a long time living in New York City, a shorter time living in New Delhi and am now based in Nashville, TN
What are some of the best diverse books you've read recently?
What are some of the best Desi Movies/ Characters you've seen in fiction?
I'd ABSOLUTELY Love to hear from you!

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