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Na’ima B Robert on ‘Boy vs. Girl’ (and a giveaway)

July 12, 2010

As promised, The Rock Pool is delighted to host Na’ima B Robert, telling us all about her new book, Boy vs. Girl, as she kicks off her tour of the blogosphere.

Details of how to win a copy of Na’ima’s new book are at the end of this post – make sure you enter!


When I first had the idea for my latest teen book, ‘Boy vs. Girl’, I was interested in exploring what I saw as the double standards that many traditional Asian parents have with regards the upbringing of their sons and daughters.

In my mind, the story would revolve around a twin brother and sister. The boy was to be a hell-raising ‘badboy’, headed for trouble, left totally unsupervised, accountable to no-one, while the girl was to be a straight A student, dutiful and obedient, but under constant scrutiny all the same. And I wanted to look at the effects of these double standards on the young people themselves.

Aren’t stories surprising? The ‘Boy vs. Girl’ that is on bookshelves today is quite different from my initial idea. Sure, there are elements of the original that stayed. The two main characters are twins, Faraz and Farhana, their names never changed, and there are elements of Faraz’s narrative that remained the same but, aside from that, the story grew above and beyond its rather narrow origins.

In place of the stereotypical wild boy/tame girl dichotomy grew a far more complex, nuanced set of characters.

I will start with Faraz, for whom I must admit having a real soft spot :). A Pakistani lad who continually disappoints his father by not being either sporty or brainy; he of the beautiful face, green eyes and painful stammer; he of the gifted fingers and the artist’s eye that his parents don’t notice and wouldn’t understand, even if they did. This is the Faraz that came to inhabit the pages of the manuscript as I wrote. It is this Faraz who decides to start working out in order to better defend himself from school bullies and catches the eye of local tough guy, Skrooz. It is this Faraz who nurses a silent love for his sister’s best friend. And it this Faraz, so vulnerable and needy of acceptance and understanding, who is eventually sucked into an underworld of gangs, violence and drugs and whose decisions lead to the books’ rather shocking climax.

Then there is Farhana: intelligent, feisty, gorgeous and aloof – but only away from home. With her parents and close-knit extended family, she plays the part of the dutiful daughter to perfection while losing her heart to a most gorgeous boy with a voice that reminds her of melted chocolate.

But she is not a stereotypical ‘good girl gone bad’ type either. When the story begins, she is nursing a broken heart and, with Ramadan fast approaching and with the encouragement of her lively aunt (who wear a niqab – more of which later), she is contemplating wearing the headscarf, the hijab. This decision is momentous for her, not only because of how it will affect her popularity at school but because her mother, a cultural rather than religious traditionalist, does not agree with hijab. Yes, they do exist, contrary to popular belief!

How Farhana deals with others’ expectations of her and the return of the chocolate-voiced one are key elements in her story, a story that increasingly runs parallel to Faraz as he is pulled further and further away from their relationship and shared spiritual journey.

Other unexpected characters include a university-educated, world literature-loving niqabi aunt with a rebellious streak and a shady past, an angst-ridden imam’s daughter, a gangster with a heroin addict for a brother and an inspirational bearded Muslim graffiti artist!

I didn’t set out to create atypical ‘Muslim characters’, they just turned out that way, I guess because they were inspired by real people, people I knew who did not fit the stereotype we often hold of Muslim Asians. Sometimes, the characters behaved as I would have expected them to, other times, they surprised me. But I was grateful for their presence for, without them, I would have had a story full of cliches, with no spark, no life, no moments of surprise.

Now, all I need is for someone to review the book and say ‘It was full of cliches and totally predictable. I give it one star’ and I will stop singing the praises of my beloved characters and go back to the drawing board extra hard as I prepare to write my next book!

Na’ima B Robert

About Na’ima

Not your traditional YA writer, Na’ima B Robert is ‘Muslim, Black, mixed-race, Southern African, Western, revert and woman all in one’. Descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side, she was born in Leeds and grew up in Zimbabwe. She went on to gain a first-class degree from the University of London. Having worked in marketing, the performing arts, teaching and the travel and tourism industry, she is now an award-winning author and founder and Editor-in-chief of SISTERS, a magazine for Muslim women.

Na’ima is author of the best-selling book ‘From My Sisters’ Lips’ and has been published in The Observer, The Times and is a regular contributor to The Times Online Faith section.

Her second book for teens, ‘Boy vs. Girl’, is out now.

Win Na’ima’s books!

We’re thrilled to tell you that Na’ima’s publishers, Frances Lincoln Books, have offered to give away a copy of ‘Boy vs. Girl’ to three lucky winners, and Na’ima’s first novel, ‘From Somalia With Love’ to two runners-up – that’s FIVE prizes, guys!

So what are you waiting for? To enter, all you have to do is answer this question in the comments:

Brothers and sisters: what are the best things and/or worst things about them? If you are an only-child, would you have liked a brother or sister? Why, or why not?

You may have noticed that we’re now on Facebook and Twitter, so there are lots of ways to get extra entries this time!

+1 (each) if you post this link on Facebook or Twitter (RT @therockpool on Twitter, or tag us @The Rock Pool on Facebook; alternatively post links in your comment)
+2 if you post it on your blog (leave the link in your comment)
+2 (each) when you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to this blog by email (the box is in the bottom right-hand corner of this page)

And finally, as a thank you to the awesome people who’ve stuck with us and kept on reading, we’re introducing loyalty points:

+3 to old subscribers on any medium (Twitter, Facebook, RSS or email)

This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY. Closing date extended to 1st August 2010.

> Make sure you come back on July 25th, when Maggie Stiefvater stops by on the Linger Blog Tour and talks faith, time travel and spoons, and we give away a gorgeous hardback of Linger.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. muslimah peace permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:00 pm

    Brothers and sisters: what are the best things and/or worst things about them? If you are an only-child, would you have liked a brother or sister? Why, or why not?

    I have few sisters and didnt get along with them im the yougest in the family i have 8 halfs sisters 2 half brothers and 1 real sister, im not closed to any off them because i become a revert muslim insha allah.

    but if i where closed i would my sisters to be here for me and listen to me has i had pass past and need a nice hug from them and for them to gurad and look after me, my brothers i would like them to watch over me and didnt let any harm come after my dad past away when i was 8yrs old, but there passed away now i wish i had more time with my brothers and sisters.

    • muslimah peace permalink
      July 12, 2010 4:02 pm

      salam sorry ment to say “had bad past”

  2. Sumayya Cassim permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:58 pm

    As Salaamu Alaikum

    Hoping my message reaches you in the best of health and Imaan, Insha’ALLAH.

    Coming from a family of 3 sisters and 4 brothers, noisy would be an understatement, lol.

    Yeah there are times when we have our arguments and differences, where you’d wanna pull up a chair and shout Jerry Springer, just joking, Alhamdulillah, nothing violent but amidst the noise, you always know that someone will listen to you and advise you when need be or give you that hug without you having to say anything.

    It is said that to have a big family is a blessing from ALLAH, and truly I am blessed, Shukrullah.

  3. Marufah permalink
    July 12, 2010 6:29 pm

    Yes,i wil be happy havin brothers& sisters around me.Alhamdulillah,i av 3brothers and 7sisters ,although there are times when we argue & fight due to differences in later settled,bt its nice having them.

  4. ZPurpleify permalink
    July 12, 2010 7:59 pm

    Brothers and sisters: what are the best things and/or worst things about them? If you are an only-child, would you have liked a brother or sister? Why, or why not?

    I come from a family of 4 girls and many cousins (who I consider as close to me as my sisters.) Having a close knit family has it’s perks and downsides too. We are all close and when my husband first saw this he was amazed at how well we all get on (He’s an only child.) Whenever we need anything, there is always someone there to help out, I couldn’t imagine my life without my siblings and cousins.

    Although saying that I have moved away (as a result of marriage) and although I am a whole continent away we still keep in touch through the many means which are available to us. I feel like I have the best of both worlds, I can talk to them and keep in touch but I don’t have the husle and bustle of them being in my face all the time – I have adjusted to life with just one other person well and like the fact that there is some peace and quiet!

    My husband always says no one should have to go through being an only child – I wouldn’t trade my sisters for anything!

  5. July 12, 2010 11:28 pm

    I know that I don’t qualify to win a book (do I?) but I would like to give my 5 pence worth. I grew up with a younger brother and sister and my childhood memories are made up of weekend afternoons spent with them in our swimming pool, climbing the guava tree and watching awful Hana Barbera cartoons and Green Acres on Zimbabwe TV when we had had enough of the outdoors.
    Funnily enough, my memory of my sister fades as I enter my teen years. For many years, we lost contact even though we lived in the same house – I didn’t know her at all. It was only when I was living in London, about to get married that we reconnected and I ‘got to know’ her again. And I can safely say that she is one of my best friends and, without doubt, the sweetest, loveliest, most wonderfulest sister in the world! I can’t imagine not having her there to talk to on Gmail Chat every day, to deal with family issues, to rejoice in her successes and to share my life’s journey with. May Allah bless her abundantly.

  6. Umm Nafisa Nargies permalink
    July 13, 2010 12:37 am

    We are 2 sisters masha Allah , All my childhood memories are associated with her , we are sisters and best friends too , there is nothing that we didnt share , advising each other, hiding each others mistakes and taking the blame for each other , talking and walking all the way to school, eating ice creams together after school , getting drenched in rain and later getting scolded by our mother ! , to me she was my best friend . but after i got married and left my home and moved abroad I lost in touch with her and she was left alone too , then my children , family , i kind of feel we have moved far from each other , but in our hearts we know how much we love and care for each other , i know she too is feeling the same. after her I havent felt comfortable speaking about my personal problems to anybody except Allah swt. and she too doesnt ask for advice or for anything to anybody except me , not even to our dad and mum , dont know what she is doing now !:(
    now she being married too , our life has taken a huge turn and a HUGE test from Allah is upon us , we are in a position where our belief/deen is standing in between us 😦 , for me its my deen that comes first, but as a blood relation and my sister I love her the same way i used to always , May Allah swt guide her and bring her back to us , I love her and miss her 😦
    But yes, having a brother or sister or many brothers and sisters is surely a blessing from Allah s wt , so much bonding, sharing, emotions and love is put in our hearts through those realtions and Allah swt has made Jannah haram for the one who cuts off the relations of the womb and gives barakah and long life to the one who upholds the relations, so this goes on to show how much value that relation adds to us personally and spiritually .

  7. Samantha permalink
    July 13, 2010 1:54 am

    The Best things about my Brothers and Sister are that they will always be there for me. It doesn’t matter how much we fight there always there when I need them. When I have a bad day there right there to cheer me up. The one thing I hate about my brothers though is that they live hours away from me but that makes every time I see them all the more meaningful

    +2 (each) I’m following you on Facebook & Twitter,I’ve surscribed to the blog by email

  8. Huda M permalink
    July 13, 2010 3:15 am

    First off, assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu Na’ima and anyone who is reading; I sincerely hope that you are all in the best of health!
    Coming from a family with 3 girls (excluding myself) and 2 boys, some are quick to assume that our family life is far from pleasant. Although some of the presumptions made are a reality at times, honestly speaking, I couldn’t imagine my life without any of them, and the bond we share is quite special, alhamdullillah.
    Although it is not entirely symmetrical, I am the middle child of the household, and as the media often displays in family sitcoms, I was almost always the “forgotten child”. This was a cause for concern during my younger years, but alhamdullillah, with age comes wisdom and reasoning, and we’ve been able to mature as a family.
    While there exists many perks in having 3 older sisters (clothes and shoe-sharing privileges are obvious ones!), I love my 2 little brothers very dearly, in particular the one closest to me agewise. He has autism and so I have a soft spot for him. He isn’t much of a talker and sometimes he has trouble conveying what it is that he wants, but throughout the years, we’ve developed a language purely based on hand motions (not far from sign language, in fact), and we’ve been able to connect on a much deeper level. Society is almost always quick to label autistic children as disabled and unable to function in modern day life, but everytime I look at this gentle giant that I’ve been blessed to call my brother, I can’t help but thank Allah 🙂     

  9. Robert L. permalink
    July 14, 2010 1:58 am

    Brothers and sisters: what are the best things and/or worst things about them? If you are an only-child, would you have liked a brother or sister? Why, or why not?

    I think the best and worst thing about it are also two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, you see what, in many ways, is an alternate version of yourself; (usually) raised in the same house by the same parent(s), you see what you might like if you had a different personality. “What if I were more laid-back?” “What if I was more enterprising?” “Why can’t I make friends as well as my sibling?” Mirroring your own personality against a brother or sister is one of, if not THE, best ways to realize your own identity, maybe even challenge yourself to change.

    On the other hand, you have to learn to deal with someone whom you love and care for, someone you look to as an example in some way, yet will be inconsolably different from you in some way. You have to watch someone who acts in a way you don’t like – a way that challenges your own view of life – and either succeed, upsetting your own self-identity, or fail, meaning you watch someone you love get hurt without being able to help them.

    Of course, this is all before specific family dynamics…but there’s only so much space on the internet.

  10. Shez permalink
    July 18, 2010 12:26 am

    Salam alikum wrwb,
    Im from big family im living in uk i wish i had my family with me 2 share all these things there used 2 live in afghanistan and talibans killed them all included my mother when i was young age, so u are blessed 2 have ur family and insha allah u cheerouis them with all your love, i wud if i had mine x

  11. July 18, 2010 11:16 am


    Cant wait to win and read your new book.
    Must be great reading……….

    • July 19, 2010 1:31 am

      Salma, if you want to win the book you have to answer the question about brothers and sisters above – details at the end of the blog post above 🙂

  12. umm Nafisa Nargies permalink
    July 19, 2010 12:00 pm


    Just wanted to let you all know that I am not competing for the book prize, I have all the books written by sis. Naima, Alhamdullilah masha Allah so to make it easy for the others who dont have , I prefer to stay out.
    However JazakAllahu kahiran for the oppurtunity given , seeing everyone writting about their sisters and brothers I got tempted to write too and with the few words that i wrote and few tears that I shed , it did relieve some of my pain and sadness Alhamdullilah .

    JZK , Wassalam

  13. July 20, 2010 7:53 pm

    As you know, with four sisters myself I think I can say that I’ve had my far share of experience of siblings.

    Being the oldest means that I can quick change into a second mother sometimes, and I know they think it’s bad enough having one. xD So the bad thing would be that at times, we all know each other so well that we we know exactly what ticks each other off, and would have no problem in using the knowledege to get what we want.

    But on the other hand, I know that they will always be there for me, not matter how angry or upset I make them unlike friends. They were the first ones to accept when others didn’t. And I guess, growing up with them meant we shared everything together so it’s nice when you can just be laid back with someone and talk about silly little things and still be comfortable.

    And there’s my input. 🙂 Also:

    +1 : Facebook status –!/RyuuohElf

    +2: on my blog –

    +3: been following you on email.

  14. July 29, 2010 2:51 am

    Hmmm … best things about bros and sisters : best thing is you have a shared history so no one understands your idiosyncracies like they do. Worse thing – you have to share everything!

    +3 I am an old subscriber on email
    +2 I like you on FB (Lesley Cheah)
    +2 I follow on twitter (@lesleywyrites)


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