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