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Muhammad Khan is an engineer, a secondary-school maths teacher and YA author. His critically acclaimed debut novel I Am Thunder was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Great Read Award and TSBA Book Awards, among others making him a promising voice in the YA fiction world. He lives in South London and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s.
Photo © Sarah Blackie
This unflinchingly authentic second novel by the author of I Am Thunder packs a powerful punch in recounting boys’ abusive sexual humiliation of girls, and is uncompromisingly astute on the destructive effects of bullying, peer pressure and gang life - how quick it is to get caught up, how hard it is to escape. After enduring racist ridicule over his World Book Day costume in primary school (“Superman ain’t no brown boy”), gifted aspiring comic book creator Ilyas is inspired to create his own British Pakistani superhero, PakCore. Years later teenage Ilyas finds himself pulled in different directions. His father is constantly telling him to be less of an arty “girly-boy” and he’s under the cosh from his mates to sexually ridicule girls in the name of proving his worth for their DedManz mandem. When he dares to stand up to gang leader Imran - the epitome of toxic masculinity - Ilyas lands himself in big trouble, but silver lining comes in the form of fellow comic fan Kelly. She’s a ray of non-conformist sunshine, but also struggling with the pressures of her malicious mates, and an arrogant mother whose do-gooding work is motivated by a belief in her white superiority. Thankfully, another ray of light comes courtesy of a cool teacher who encourages Ilyas to take his comic book creativity to the wider world. “Comics is the one place I get to call the shots,” he states. “The one place I can’t be controlled”, but finding the strength to do the right thing and get out of the gang comes with great risks. A resoundingly stark, thought-provoking novel with a heart that burns with hope and courage.
February 2018 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Brave British Muslim keeps her head after losing her heart An important, engaging debut in which a bright British Muslim is drawn down a dark path. Tingling with heart and urgency, and astute on the complexities of radicalisation, this rivetingly authentic read shows that representation really does matter. Fifteen-year-old Muzna has a passionate ambition to become a novelist, but her parents have other plans. Boys, make-up and hair removal are strictly forbidden, and they want her to become a doctor – “#BrownGirlProblems”, as Muzna describes her predicament. When labeled a terrorist by a classmate in her new school, “Guy Candy” Arif sticks up for her, and it’s not long before they strike up a friendship, and more. She starts attending meetings with Arif and his older brother Jameel, and her eyes are opened to the media’s anti-Muslim bias, and to Western demonisation of Islam. The brothers encourage her to pray, and she’s gifted a hijab, which she hides from her parents, since her father insists “it was only the 'ignorant’ who clung to Islamic teachings”. Being sharp-minded and questioning, Muzna is keen to understand different facets of Islam, but she’s conflicted when Jameel says her parents aren’t “real Muslims”, and he can’t be right when he declares “writers of fiction are among the worst of people”, can he? Muzna’s conflicts are sharply evoked, and there are moments that will have you begging her to listen to her friends when they reach out to her. But the truth only fully hits Muzna as time is running out, and she must summon the strength to remain true to the talented, intelligent young woman she is. Inspired by author’s shock at hearing that three British schoolgirls had flown to Syria to join the ‘Islamic State’ in 2015, this is a timely, thought-provoking debut that also packs in powerful universalisms about growing up, falling in love and discovering who you are. ~ Joanne Owen