Review of The Hopes And Triumphs Of The Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain.

I didn’t realise that this book was part of a series, but that said, it is a very good stand-alone book. I didn’t feel the two previous books had to be read in order for the storyline to make sense.

This particular book centres on the youngest of the Amir sisters, Mae. Mae is coming home for the holidays, excited to see her family as she has been at University. Her brother-in-law is supposed to be picking her up, only he isn’t there when Mae exits the train.

Feeling a little deflated that her family seem to have forgotten about her, Mae does what she always does and cracks a joke about what has just happened.

The family seem to have evolved in her absence and Mae feels extremely left out. Trying to get the attention of her family whilst at home isn’t working, so Mae decides to go back to Uni early. She feels really hurt by her family’s lack of interest in her life at Uni and a few tears start to escape when she’s on the train heading back.

After her crying bout on the train she decides to put her make-up on. Her attention is drawn to a man sitting opposite her and at first she thinks he is flirting with her, but it soon becomes apparent he is acting in a creepy manner.

A few days later she discovers that the man from the train had secretly filmed her putting her make-up on and had posted the video onto social media, commenting about how women think they are entitled to do these things and so on. Mae is horrified to find that the video has gone viral and that there are so many negative comments about her.

Feeling alone and hurt she decides to go to a bar to have some fun. After having too many drinks she is dancing on the dance floor when a young man starts grinding his body against hers. Unbeknownst to Mae he has also spiked her drink.

They go outside and luckily for Mae a couple of young women save her from the potential attacker. But Mae remembers nothing of this as she has started to black out due to the drugs.

One of the young women, Ji Su takes her back to her dorm and stays with her to make sure she is OK. The next day a friendship between the two develops and they soon become inseparable. Mae hasn’t really been putting the work in for her course but with the help of her new found friend she begins to study.

By the end of the year Mae’s lack of effort for her studies is showing and it emerges that she has failed her first year. To make things worse she has also had a falling out with Ji Su. She was supposed to be moving in with Ji Su for the summer but has to go home as the two friends are not speaking.

Once home she is too ashamed to tell her family the truth about her failure. Her parents had paid for her first year at Uni and she worries what they will say when they learn of her failure. She is determined to pay them back and decides to get a job. She finds work at a local amusement park, her role is the back end of horse! In this role she meets Abdul-Raheem and they hit it off immediately. A romance blossoms but she isn’t certain where it can lead.

Abdul-Raheem is a black muslim and Mae is worried about her family’s reaction. They are Bengali and are very set in their ways. Mae keeps her relationship a secret from her family as she doesn’t want a scene. Nor does she want Abdul-Raheem to be insulted or hurt by the way her family will react to him.

But one evening when she is babysitting for her sisters she finds she needs Abdul-Raheem’s help. He comes over and helps her with Zoya, her niece, who has been a little unwell. But unbeknownst to them Mae’s step-nephew, who has a crush on Mae, has witnessed Abdul-Raheem in the house with Mae and he blows her secret by informing the family that Mae has a man round at her sisters house.

The whole family turn up and what happens next is an ugly scene where her parents are racially abusive to Abdul-Raheem. Once he has left there is a huge argument which ends with Mae leaving and going in search of her boyfriend. He lets her spend the night, but he refuses to engage in anything physical as he is a devout Muslim and to have a sexual relationship with her would go against his religious beliefs.

The argument almost tears the family apart, their opinions of every aspect of Mae’s life are quite extreme, but none more so than how they reacted to her involvement with Abdul-Raheem.

As soon as I started reading this book I was hooked. Mae is lost. She is struggling with her feelings. Her identity. Her sexuality. Her role in life. She struggles with her feelings over what it would mean to date a black boy, and she knows that her family would never accept Abdul-Raheem.

This book is very thought provoking, especially when dealing with the issues of race, religion, class and culture. Delving into Mae’s life gives an insight into the role a young, nineteen year old Asian girl plays in the dynamics of her family. A family that is very close knit and who stay true to their traditions and way of life.

Mae doesn’t feel like she fits in anymore within the family dynamics, we see this as she explores her sexuality, her freedom, and her role in life. The troubles that ensue give the reader a glimpse into the very real struggles young Asian women are facing.

Towards the end of the book Mae finds her way and makes up with her family. Her parents eventually understand what she is trying to tell them and she goes back to University to study a new course. She finds herself and is optimistic for her future.

This book is so wonderfully written, the story flows well, the characters are likeable and their issues drive the story forward. The cultural differences are quite subtle until the major argument, but even then I found I could see all perspectives.

This is a MUST read, even as a stand alone book, but I have to say I am eager to read the other books that make up the series.

Brilliant storyline that highlights the struggles young Asian women face, and the family bonds that a close knit family share. A heartwarming story that had me gripped throughout.

Highly recommended.