In January 2019, a mix of humour, heart, and high-stakes drama provided a timely and honest portrait of what it’s like to grow up feeling unwelcome in your own culture. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali showed a young Muslim queer fighting for love, fighting for family, and fighting for herself. Through the prism of multicultural identity, this debut novel showed the complexities of navigating modernity and tradition while exploring the ties between families, friends, and intersectional diversity. No wonder Sandhya Menon, New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi & From Twinkle With Love, praised it as a “much-needed addition to any YA shelf”. Of course, it wasn’t a surprise when the author’s sophomore novel of 2021, Zara Hossain is Here, was appreciated for how it brought a timely intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of faith in the face of hate.
Now, in August 2022, the author’s third novel will be giving voice to two generations, eighteen years apart. Meet Me in Mumbai will be an extraordinary story of two teenage girls forced to understand the power and the consequences of their choices, and how family can be both formed and found over time. With themes of an unplanned teen pregnancy and adoption, this YA contemporary will be full of heart. Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to feature Sabina Khan — the author of Meet Me in Mumbai— on this blog today! To view more such posts by Muslim authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, Muslim Musings, spanning over Ramadan 2022. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Q/A with Sabina Khan on her young adult novels, stories of queer South Asian Muslim girls, and diversity within a community.
Starting with the introductions, would you like to help our readers know more about your upcoming novel, Meet Me in Mumbai, yourself, and the weather where you are?
Fanna, thank you so much for having me! I can’t wait for Meet Me In Mumbai to be out in the world. It’s a story in two parts of the mother Ayesha (at 17) and her daughter Mira eighteen years later as they find their way back to each other. Both face tough choices and have to be strong beyond their years in order to find their happiness.
A bit about me: I write the stories I never got to read as a teen, so you’ll find them full of family, friendship, love and good food, all the things that are important to me. I’m the proud mom of two amazing daughters and of course my puppy without whom life would be so dull. The weather where I am in beautiful British Columbia has just today ranged from a sudden, short hailstorm to bright sunshine and blustering winds.
Clearly, this contemporary is about resilient desi girls, identity, hope, and so much more. Who, Ayesha or Mira, was more personal to you as the creator of these characters?
I have to say that Ayesha is the most personal to me because I too was once a homesick college student, far away from family and friends, longing to know someone who could understand what I was going through. As I wrote her story, I remembered all the nights I cried myself to sleep because I was lost in a sea of strangers who would never know the sounds and sights I missed.
This tale will be told in two acts—eighteen years apart. How difficult or fun or both was it to narrate a story across different timelines?
It was actually a lot of fun and very different from my previous novels. I really enjoyed writing each part, knowing that they were connected in such a powerful way.
Meet Me in Mumbai by Sabina Khan
A novel in two acts—told eighteen years apart—gives voice to both mother (Ayesha) and daughter (Mira) after an unplanned teen pregnancy led Ayesha to place Mira up for adoption.
Seventeen-year-old Mira Fuller-Jensen was adopted by her moms at birth. All she knows about her biological mother is that she was a high-school student from India who returned to India after giving birth. Although Mira loves her moms, she’s always felt out of place in her mostly white community.
So when Mira finds an old box with letters addressed to her from her birth mother, she sees a way to finally capture that feeling of belonging. Her mother writes that if Mira can forgive her for having to give her up, she should find a way to travel to India for her eighteenth birthday and meet her. Mira knows she’ll always regret it if she doesn’t go. But is she actually ready for what she will learn?
It’s easy to understand why readers are excited for Meet Me in Mumbai—set to be published on 02 August, 2022! How excited are you? Any thoughts on what you expect readers to take away from it?
I am so excited and the wait is almost unbearable. I hope that readers will get a glimpse into the heartache Ayesha endures as she faces one of the toughest decisions she’ll ever have to make. My heart breaks for this young girl as she navigates this difficult road which is hard even for adults in much easier circumstances than she finds herself in. And I hope that readers understand Mira’s sense of unbelonging in her own life. It’s a strange place to find yourself and not easy to embrace your identity when you’re not quite sure where you fit in.
I wanted to make sure that readers could see that no religious community is a monolith…— Sabina Khan
Your debut contemporary, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, and sophomore novel, Zara Hossain is Here, both feature a queer South Asian Muslim girl. Why specifically stories of these teens?
Back in 2016 when I first wrote The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, my daughter had just come out to me and I wanted to write a story for teens like her. There were still not many books about queer Muslim teens at the time and I wanted to make sure that my stories were about characters who represented teens like her.
There’s certainly been progress when it comes to more stories from different communities but we all need more diversity within a community on shelves. So it’s refreshing for Rukhsana and Zara’s family to convey a range of responses. Was this a conscious choice you made while writing these stories?
Yes, it was very much a conscious choice. I wanted to make sure that readers could see that no religious community is a monolith and that parents like Zara’s exist, as do ones like Rukhsana’s. It was especially satisfying to write about parents who will stand by their child no matter how many people in their community judge them.
Family seems to be an overlapping focus in all three: Rukhsana Ali, Zara Hossain, and Meet Me in Mumbai. How important was it to reflect on ‘family’ through a lens that also focuses on culture and religion—and how neither is a monolith?
As a writer I believe it’s extremely important to try and create, as much as possible, diverse stories about a community, especially a woefully underrepresented one such as mine. I want readers to have a wide range of stories to choose from, ones that truly reflect their identities, their family dynamics. That said, of course it’s not incumbent upon any of us to try and showcase our entire community in one novel nor should our single stories have to reflect all of us. As you said, no culture or religion is a monolith, but it is immensely rewarding as an author to be able to write more and more stories so that I can explore a different aspect every time.
With three books published now, what have you learned ever since that first step you took towards writing stories or getting them on shelves?
I’ve learned to be kinder and more patient with myself, to remember that I have time to tell all the stories I carry in my heart, that every message from a reader who has connected with my stories is a gift and that our stories are important.
This was a great chat! But before letting you go, would you like to share what you’ve been working on nowadays; any stories we should be excited for after Meet Me in Mumbai is surely going to win our hearts? Or maybe something you enjoyed reading recently?
I’m just working on edits for my next YA after Meet Me In Mumbai which comes out Summer 2023. I can’t really say much more about it, but hopefully soon! At the moment, I’m reading All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir and it is a truly stunning novel with characters who will stay with you long after you’re done. Thank you so much for having me and giving me a chance to talk about Meet Me In Mumbai. I hope that readers will love and cheer for my girls Ayesha and Mira.
She is the author of the upcoming YA novel Meet Me in Mumbai, as well as Zara Hossain is Here and The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali. She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world. You can find her at www.sabina-khan.com or @sabina_writer on Twitter and @sabina_writer on Instagram!
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Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the author’s answers and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.