Zara Hossain is Here
Author: Sabina Khan
Publication Date: 06 April 2021
Representation: Pakistani & Muslim (bisexual) MC; sapphic relationship
Genre: YA – Contemporary
Publisher: Scholastic Inc. (I Read YA)
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
CW: racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, gun violence, homophobia, biphobia, bullying
Zara Hossain is Here is one of those books that I think should be required reading for young people. There are a lot of heavy topics and themes discussed in this book (see content warnings above), but Sabina Khan brilliantly examines the struggles of being a Pakistani and Muslim immigrant in the US.
Zara is a high school senior in Corpus Christi, TX at a wealthy private high school thanks to her dad’s job as a pediatrician at the local hospital. Life at school isn’t exactly smooth sailing since she has to deal with the head jock’s (Tyler) constant racist and Islamophobic remarks. Zara has always just tried to push through to keep her parents from worrying until Tyler’s antics escalate. Now everything that Zara and her family has worked for is in jeopardy, and of course, the Brown immigrants are the ones who stand to lose everything.
Zara is a phenomenal character. First off, she’s bisexual, which is addressed on page. There are several conversations surrounding Zara’s sexuality being at odds with her religious identity, and that even though her parents are 100% supportive, Zara would have to hide that aspect of her in Pakistan. She would not have the privilege of being out as she is in the US. This is stark contrast to Zara’s girlfriend Chloe, who is a white Catholic American girl with parents who are unwilling to accept that their daughter is lesbian. I love that Khan showed this dichotomy and even addresses that the assumption that it’s always the parents within Muslim communities that do not accept queerness when in this case, it’s the opposite.
The insight into just how complicated and messy the immigration system was much appreciated. I think that there’s this ideology in the US specifically that as long as you enter the country legally (as is the case here with employer sponsored visas) that everything will proceed without any hiccups. The way Khan challenged this naive notion and highlighted how flawed the system truly is was eye-opening.
I want to quickly comment on the side characters of this book. I absolutely loved Zara’s parents and their unwavering love and support for their daughter no matter what avenues she wanted to pursue. Zara’s two best friends, Nick and Priya were also really well done. Some of my favorite moments in the book was seeing how seamlessly Nick was incorporated into Zara’s family and traditions. Nick is Mexican American, but when he’s at Zara’s house, he uses the traditional honorifics when addressing Zara’s family.
Overall, this is a brilliant coming of age novel that provides raw insight into the struggles of being an immigrant while also highlighting the importance of remembering that the meaning of home may not always be the land your from but the people that you surround yourself with especially in times of strife.
Thank you to Scholastic Inc (I Read YA) for providing a copy for review. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
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Sabina Khan is the author of ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). 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.