That Thing We Call a Heart
by Sheba Karim
Publication Date: May 9th 2017
Find This Book: That Thing We Call a Heart
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for honest review.
The first third of this book, for me, was slow going. Not being Pakistani or Muslim, I didn’t quite understand where Shabnam was coming from until she opened up further into the book. Researching the Urdu words was fun and a great learning experience for me, but I didn’t understand why she was embarrassed about her Great-Uncle or why her friend starting to wear a hijab was so important and relation-ship altering. How and why did Farah’s choice effect Shabnam? While this and more was explained towards the end of the book, the beginning of the book certainly felt closed off to me. However, once Shabnam started working at the Pie Shack, and delved into her history and herself, the book really started picking up and I couldn’t put it down.
As a second generation immigrant, Shabnam seems to struggle with balancing being a teenager with her parent’s expectations of her. She leads sort of a double-life in that regard, which she brings up on multiple occasions. What I loved was that Shabnam still has a pretty good relationship with both her mother and her father. While she doesn’t feel like she can talk to them about boy problems (what teen does?) they still seemed quite close. Shabnam even explores her family’s relationship to Urdu poetry and the Partition through the book, which was fascinating to watch develop. Even better, the author includes notes about both Partition and the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the back of the book! I had learned about Partition in my Eastern Religions class in college, but it was fascinating to experience it out of the academic setting with realism and weight behind the stories. Though I assume the specific example used by the author was not a true story, it brings home the idea that horrific acts just like the one depicted did occur. The Urdu poetry I had never experienced before and it was really cool as an English major to learn about a new type of poetry along with Shabnam!
The best part about this book is my favorite character: Farah. She is such a witty sarcastic badass who is super smart and doesn’t take crap from anyone. My hero! It was great to see her navigate her religion and her relationship with Shabnam. Of course friendships aren’t perfect, and it was wholesome to see them have a rocky argument and deal with the fallout. Also, I absolutely adored Ye Olde Donut Shoppe (Shabnam and Farah’s hangout) and its owner Dino. He was so sweet and charming and really tolerated a lot of crap from Jaime. I don’t eat donuts- but it sure made me want to go out and buy one! What a fitting read for National Doughnut Day today!
This is the perfect summer read. Relationships (both platonic and romantic) are depicted realistically. Shabnam even has a cute summer fling while working at a park pie shop! This was a novel navigating through friendship, identity, and first love and while the topics may be rocky teenager experiences, the writing style dealt with it elegantly.