I heard too many good reviews about this book to not want to pick it up. The story follows an Egyptian American family a year after a tragedy that left their oldest son Hasaam and the daughter of their neighbors, Natalie, dead. Being Muslim, you can imagine the implications this family faces. They learn there will be a memorial held to honor Natalie, and not-yet-healed wounds resurface again as they once again face the prejudices of their affluent community.
What stunned me about this book is the way each of these family members handles their grief. Middle child Khaled seems to retreat into himself more. Father Samir, a respected doctor, wants to move past it all and make a speech at the memorial for Natalie, much to the chagrin of his family. Mother Nagla ponders on what she did wrong as a mother that affected her oldest son so badly. And there are flashbacks to the family when they first came to America and began raising their young family. Nagla’s mother from Egypt has been staying staying with the family for nearly a year, since the death of their son. She is a devout Muslim and also quite superstitious in her own way, and she and Nagla engage in discussions on how the family is handling their grief, and how Nagla interacts with her husband. Slowly the actual events that led to the deaths of Hosaam and Natalie are revealed.
One of the chapters featuring Khaled really stuck out to me. In it he ponders the concept of prayer, and how much control we have on the future with our prayers. Why do we pray? What does prayer do? How does it relate to the superstitions his grandmother holds? Once again, I do appreciate reflections on faith from those not of the LDS persuasion. Having a different perspective, a different lens to look at ideas of doctrine and faith can give a much richer faith-promoting read. And Khaled’s fascination with butterflies, reflected on the cover, should be a point to keep in mind as one reads.
The novel allows for the reader to follow the course of events leading up to Natalie’s memorial, and ponder on how one would react under similar circumstances. How have we treated our neighbors who are different from us? How would an LDS family face these predicaments this Muslim family faces? Would it be different, do you think? The narrative also causes you to confront your assumptions about the Muslim son who caused the tragedy, and why.
Knowing that the whole plot revolves around the tragic deaths of two young people, this might be a difficult read for some. This is no light-hearted read. But this is the kind of story that has affected many people of color in our country, and it’s something to be aware of and mindful of, especially if you are not a person of color. But the emotions that are explored are universal. This read should give you pause.