I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
Publisher: MacMillan Children’s Books
Publication date: 25 January 2018
Genre: Contemporary YA
Page count: 320 pages
Format: Paperback proof
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free.
By now you guys know that I am not a fan of contemporary YA books. I just don’t have much of an interest in modern teenagers and their teenage lives. However, I Am Thunder caught my eye because it deals with the radicalization of British teens by religious extremists. I figured it would shape up to be an important book, so I cautiously decided to give it a shot.
Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there’s prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.
But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice – keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?*
I was absolutely stunned by I Am Thunder. Khan wrote this book in response to the 2015 story of three British girls being radicalized by the Islamic State and travelling to Syria. You’d think it would be an incredibly dark and heavy book, but in reality it is light, funny, and hopeful. Of course, it gives those themes the sensitivity they deserve, all while providing the reader with a sense of hope. I’m so happy that there are authors out there that aren’t shying away from these issues, all while making them incredibly readable. Khan also deals with parental and community pressure, bullying, Islamophobia, teenage sex, beauty standards, and the general sense of uncertainty many of us felt in our younger years. This book is special in that it features something that almost every single reader can relate to.
The fact that we get the story from clever, hopeful, and incredibly funny Muzna helps alleviate that darkness of the difficult subject matter. There’s something about the way Khan writes her that makes her feel so alive — I didn’t’ feel like I was reading a fictional book at all. I very rarely feel like I can say this, particularly as a nearly 30 year old woman, but I really feel like Muzna and I would be friends in real life. She reminds me of all my childhood friends, particularly in the way she interacts with her own best friend. She is not a perfect character — she has her flaws, as many of us do — however I didn’t question her decision making process throughout almost the entire book (which is rare for me in YA). I don’t think I can emphasize enough just how real she feels. She’s easily one of my favourite YA lady leads.
Don’t let the ‘young adult’ classification of this book deter you from reading it. Don’t let the themes of religious extremism and radicalization deter you. This is a book for anyone to read, whether you’re Muslim or not, a teenager or not. I firmly believe that every single person out there can learn something from this book.
If there were more books like I Am Thunder out there, I think the world would be a better and more understanding place.
Want to read I Am Thunder? You can find it at these sites (affiliate links):
Is I Am Thunder on your radar? Have you read it yet? I’d love to know what you thought, particularly if you’re an Own Voices reader for this book!
*Copy courtesy of Goodreads