Love, Hate & Other Filters
- By Samira Ahmed
- Soho Teen
- 288 pp.
- Reviewed by Jaime Coyne
- February 22, 2018
In this winning debut, a Muslim teen weathers a terrorist attack, a first love, and her parents' disapproval.
In Samira Ahmed’s debut YA novel, 17-year-old Maya Aziz is caught between her parents’ expectations that she be a good Indian daughter who lives according to their Muslim customs, and her desire to spread her wings, go to film school, and maybe even kiss a boy.
As someone who feels like she’s always lived her life on the sidelines, Maya is surprised to suddenly find herself the star of her own romantic comedy: She makes a strong connection with Kareem, a college boy her parents approve of who also encourages her to explore what she really wants.
At the same time, Phil, the star of the football team and her longstanding crush-from-afar, starts to notice her. Maya begins to realize that people see more in her than the shy token Indian girl, and that perhaps she should see more in herself. Perhaps she is deserving of her own love story, even if it doesn’t look quite like what Hollywood or Bollywood would portray. She comes clean to her parents about her film-school ambitions, feeling hopeful that she can carve out a place for herself in this world after all.
Then a terrorist attack strikes the nearest city, and Maya’s fragile plans shatter.
The perpetrator is Muslim and, to make matters worse, shares Maya’s last name. The brazen Islamophobia that her parents had always recounted to her from their experiences post-9/11 is suddenly a reality of daily life in their small town. Her parents’ office falls victim to a hate crime. Maya is threatened, and subsequently attacked, by an angry racist classmate.
Investigators later discover that the terrorist attack was mistakenly attributed to an innocent victim, and that the actual terrorist was an American-born white supremacist. But the damage has been done.
Maya’s parents are shaken by the attacks on their family and, while they had previously agreed to let her move away to film school, they now insist she go to college nearby and live at home.
Maya’s hopes for the future wither away. She reflects:
“Everything in my life is a fight right now, and it’s exhausting. My parents’ fears shrink my universe to the four walls of this house. The world outside paints us all as terrorists. I’m blamed for events that have nothing to do with me. And all I want is to make movies and kiss a boy.”
Maya’s love story is three-dimensional and heartrending. She likes spending time with Kareem, even likes kissing him, but recognizes that her feelings for him don’t have the depth or intensity of her feelings for Phil. Rather than casting Kareem aside, she develops a platonic relationship with him that grows to play an important role in her life.
Phil, meanwhile, provides the kind of first-love story that I never tire of reading. Their relationship is sweet and awkward and lovely. He is not perfect, and he recognizes that — Maya’s attacker is on the football team with him, and he noticed red flags in the boy’s behavior but was too afraid to act on it.
Perhaps best of all, Maya is not defined by her relationship with Phil. It’s an important experience that she will always cherish, but it doesn’t change her plans to go off to film school and conquer the world any more than the terrorist attack does. Neither love nor hate defines her — and this is just the beginning of her story.
Love, Hate & Other Filters is ultimately about hope and possibility. As Ahmed writes in her author’s note, “For those who bear the brunt of hate because of the color of their skin…you are known. You are loved. You are enough. Let your light shine. I wrote this book for you.”
This book balances the light and humor of a shy, camera-obsessed girl learning to see beauty in herself with the sorrow and frustration of how fear and bigotry can tear people apart. It strikes that balance beautifully, telling an important story both for those who see themselves reflected in the narrative and those who don’t.
Jaime Coyne is an editor at Hachette Book Group and was formerly an editor at St. Martin’s Press. She graduated from Colgate University and is based in New York City.