YA Diversity Book Club: The French Connection

Diversity Book Club
Welcome to the second edition of the YA Diversity Book Club, a monthly feature we created in partnership with three other book bloggers: Kiki at Gone Pecan, Lucy at The Reading Date, and Kristan at We Heart YA. This month we read the English translation of the French young-adult novel “I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister” by Amélie Sarn (translated by Y. Maudet). The book was originally published in France in 2005, but now English-speaking readers can follow the heartbreaking story of two North African Muslim sisters with opposing views: one is too secular for their Muslim community, and the other is too religious for the secular French school system. When tragedy strikes, the one sister is left reeling and grieving and unsure of how to move forward.  Many thanks to Random House for sending us all review copies of the book!

YA Diversity Book Club
Delacorte,152 pages | Aug. 5, 2014 | Goodreads | Buy it!

 For readers of The Tyrant’s DaughterOut of Nowhere, and I Am Malala, this poignant story about two Muslim sisters is about love, loss, religion, forgiveness, women’s rights, and freedom.

Eighteen-year-old Sohane loves no one more than her beautiful, carefree younger sister, Djelila. And she hates no one as much. The two have always shared everything. But now, Djelila is embracing her life as a secular teen, and Sohane is becoming more religious.
 
Every choice has a price.

When Sohane starts wearing a head scarf, her school insists that she remove it or she’ll be expelled. Meanwhile, Djelila is repeatedly harassed by neighborhood bullies for not following Muslim customs. Sohane can’t help thinking that Djelila deserves what she gets. She never could have imagined just how far things would go.
 
I love I hate I miss my sister.

In the year following Djelila’s tragic death, Sohane struggles with her feelings of loss and guilt, revealing a complex relationship between two sisters, each girl’s path to self-discovery, and the consequences they face for being true to themselves.

I knew before reading this book that France, which no one could accuse of being the most welcoming country in the world, has a huge problem dealing with their predominantly North African immigrants who hail from countries once considered French colonies. A “Wall Street Journal” article from April described the situation in France: “The country’s existential problem of coming to terms with more than five million Muslims in its midst—and how these immigrants and citizens accommodate (or flout) French law and custom—is deepening into a new phase of what is described as intolerance, seeming incompatibility, and political polarization.”

The way the article expresses general French fear that Muslims can’t or won’t assimilate is a major theme of the book, which may be nine years old but couldn’t be more relevant. America may have a centuries old racial problem, but it by no means is the only country dealing with crises of segregation and intolerance. Sohane and Djelila are on opposite sides of the same problem. Sohane wants to wear her her headscarf to school, where it’s illegal under French law to wear religious head coverings, and Djelila wants to be free to be athletic and have non-Muslim friends, but in the suburbs she’s branded a slut and a disgrace to her family.

On the one hand, is the Muslim community’s own intolerance of individuals, particularly a young woman, who want to act “French,” and on the other hand is the secular French community’s rampant intolerance toward religious immigrants. It was fascinating to see how Sohane and Djelila loved each other even as their ideas about religion and culture varied. They were sisters first and foremost. But the hatred or institutional discrimination of those around them led to Djelila’s death and Sohane’s expulsion.

I hope that American teens will give this brief but powerful book a read in order to learn about the challenges of teens abroad.

Interested in the book? Make sure to read a recap of our discussion at The Reading Date and We Heart YA’s “Reading Reflections” post.

 

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