She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert is marketed as a YA but was suggested to me as NA Romance. The publisher considers it a children’s book. (This is a sign of how blurred the lines have become in the American market!) If I were to describe it I’d go for Inspirational Category, with a strong agenda and a zero heat level. It’s a weird bird.
Ali’s father has converted to Islam. After personal tragedy and financial setback, Ali has adopted a much deeper connection to faith than his past would’ve predicted. Amirah has recommitted to her faith for… I really have no idea why she has. Amirah appears for the first part of the book to be battling against the restrictions of her circumstances before doing a radical swing to devout believer. She Wore Red Trainers suffers from a classic Inspirational problem. To believe the relationship and the HEA, we have to agree that the couple’s shared faith is the only workable path open to them. I didn’t feel like Ali and Amirah rose above the level of a standard arranged marriage so it was hard for me to sign on to their relationship. Let’s break down some issues in order.
Ali has class issues like woah. Going from a suburban enclave to a working class neighborhood he makes multiple snap judgements, as does the book. There are thugs and gangs in every shadow. Driving to his uncle’s home, Ali is anxious until he sees the surroundings are not like he imagined.
The houses were neat, well looked after. Good cars stood in the private driveways and the close was flanked on one side by sky-high oak trees. ‘You sure this is it, Dad?’ I asked, suddenly anxious to check that this was the right place, that I hadn’t got my hopes up for nothing. ‘It doesn’t look that bad…’
– Robert, Na’ima B. (2014-06-07). She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story (Kindle Locations 172-174). Kube Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Ali quickly discovers the reason it looks acceptable to him is the community’s division from it’s surroundings. His brother quickly runs afoul of a gang’s turf, resulting in this charming excerpt.
One of them laughed, covering his gold tipped teeth with his fist. ‘Hear dat lickle posh bwoi!’ Another snarled, ‘Tell your brother to watch himself, yeah? He don’t belong here down these sides . Down here we hurt mans, y’get me? Especially if they’ve got attitude like this one.’
– Robert, Na’ima B. (2014-06-07). She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story (Kindle Locations 718-720). Kube Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.
On Amirah’s side the class issues aren’t much better. She’s desperate for a business career so she won’t follow in her mother’s footsteps. Afraid of the path laid out before her, one of frequent failed marriages and borderline poverty, she reflects on her passion for art.
Life is tough for most people. Art is for the select few, those who have the time and energy to appreciate it. You can’t appreciate beauty if you are running on empty, struggling to survive.
– Robert, Na’ima B. (2014-06-07). She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story (Kindle Locations 1100-1101). Kube Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Which explains why great art is only created by the affluent. Point to Amirah. Where would our museums be without the the leisure class and their renowned creators? Imagine if we had to rely on the color and rhythm of the street for our culture. Dude, we’d be screwed.
It’s revealed that Amirah is also a convert to Islam through an early stepfather. Amirah’s loving brother is the most serious practitioner in her home. He has been pressuring Amirah to stop resisting her path and marry quickly. Amirah suddenly does a complete reversal and agrees to don a Niquab for a meeting with a prospective suitor.View Spoiler »Granted, her abusive stepfather has moved home and she didn’t get the A levels she wanted, but still. It’s a bewildering change from determined young woman to obedient sister. On Ali’s side he rejects all of his former relationships as lo longer suitable for his new life. Faith trumps humanity repeatedly. « Hide Spoiler
‘You can’t keep doing this . Someone tries to give you some advice, tries to remind you about Allah, and you say he’s ‘browbeating’ you, ‘blackmailing’ you, ‘guilt tripping ’ you. It ain’t blackmail, sis, it’s the truth from your Lord!’ Then I really started crying. The guilt. I couldn’t stand it: knowing that I felt one way when Islam said I should feel another.
Robert, Na’ima B. (2014-06-07). She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story (Kindle Locations 1497-1500). Kube Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Frankly, I didn’t feel She Wore Red Trainers did Islam or the Muslim way of life any favors. Amirah is forced to give up her personal aspirations in favor of making a good match. The good match is based on a handful of conversations with Ali and the knowledge that he appears to be a good man. Ali volunteers at the youth center. He knows rudimentary sign language which allows him to form a bond with her deaf sibling. He wants to marry her. That’s more than she has to go on for her other prospects but it still feels like far too little to a secular reader. The book also hammers home a fair amount of slut shaming. It’s the job of men to try and have sex, it’s the job of women to hold them off.
Definitely something naughty about that feeling you get when you become aware of how much power you have as a woman. Of course, it can be a very destructive power, which is why we hijab up, lower the gaze and all that. But I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just me, covered as always, behaving myself as usual. And yet… I’d had an effect on him. Very naughty feeling indeed.
Robert, Na’ima B. (2014-06-07). She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story (Kindle Locations 990-993). Kube Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Seriously, Amirah? You’re an any-boner kind of girl? The book reminds both characters to walk the path and accept whatever fate brings them. Their internal impulses and desires are sinful unless ratified by a socially acceptable early marriage. The most Amirah can hope for is a kind partner. The most Ali can hope for is to be viewed as acceptably faithful. There’s little outreach to the non-Muslim community. Indeed, Ali’s father holds his own mother at a distance because of her failure to support a strong Muslim path for her grandchildren. She Wore Red Trainers might be a good choice for a reader who agrees with the book’s underlying assumptions but it’s an irritating read for one who does not. It put my back up in almost exactly the same manner as a Christian Inspirational does. Points for that, I suppose.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.