Muhammad Khan’s second novel is a relevant cautionary tale of self realisation, challenging the trappings created by fear and, most importantly, acknowledging stereotypes of gender and culture before working against them.
My affection for the protagonist hit me fast and hard. Ilyas is a young man I’ve had in my classroom time and time again. He’s a person who is so busy trying to balance what everyone else expects, that he forgets who he really is and what makes him happy.
The journey that Ilyas goes on, in part, is a solo one. However, as a reader, you feel every step he takes. It’s hard to see the assumptions made about him and decisions made for him when you get to hear his own thoughts of the matter.
By the time the reader meets Kelly, they already get a feel for the world in which Ilyas lives and the way in which it goes against his own moral code. Khan is able to explore the complexity of a teen’s life and how complications don’t always arrive from one social group or source alone.
Kelly’s arrival and Ilyas’ Maths teacher takes the story on a wonderful and heart warming adjacent storyline. It’s here where I feel Khan does his best work; raising issues and challenging stereotypes not only within the story, but to the reader directly.
My favourite aspect of this story is the comic Ilyas and Kelly develop. The glimpses you get about the story will have all readers scrambling to Twitter and begging Khan to create the comic book proper.