Book Review: I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 25th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

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?

Review:

Muzna is a British Muslim who struggles with her controlling parents and their conflicting ideas on what it is to be Muslim, to be Pakistani, to be a good daughter. It’s hard to be herself when that’s not who they want her to be. So when the best looking boy in school takes an interest in her and encourages to express herself in new ways, she’s only too happy to oblige, until it seems she’s swapped one set of extreme views for another.

This is a really fascinating read, especially given the current climate. I liked the forward from the author, where he pondered on the real-life story of western girls being radicalised and wondered what made them drop their lives here to join the IS. This book explores the ways that extremists can radicalise impressionable and vulnerable teens.

I loved the point the book made about differentiating between culture and religion, as people so often confuse the two. Similarly, it really hammered home the point that Muslims aren’t terrorists and highlighted the way we’re led to believe this by the media etc. IS may claim to do things in the name of Islam, but Islam is a religion of peace and love, not terrorism, and those few are the ones we should be blaming, not a whole religion.

Muzna goes on a real journey throughout the book, from a quiet teenager who is constantly pushed around by classmates and family, to someone who is brave enough to stand up for what she knows is right, even when it’s so difficult to do.

The radicalisation plot line was great for its subtleties. It showed how someone like targets those who are impressionable and more likely to be swayed by stronger personalities and views. It’s done by playing on their religious views and ideals, twisting them and using propaganda to persuade them to another way of thinking. It’s easy to see how Muzna was initially swayed.

I wasn’t really into the way the teenagers spoke, but I’ll put that down to age (as I know this isn’t aimed at someone my age) and regional differences (I think this is probably how London teenagers speak, not the West Midlands ones I know!) I do worry that while slang can appeal to teenager readers now, it might alienate future ones as slang ages so fast. And this is a book that should be around for a long time as it has a very important message.

This a thought-provoking, intense read that can really educate people on the differences between religion, culture, and radicalisation – adults as well as teenagers! Definitely one to watch out for this year.