In the YA novel “All My Rage”, two Pakistani American teenagers find love and friendship through the common wounds of trauma

Sabaa Tahir is well known to fans of her fantastic quartet An ember in the ashes which has won numerous awards and great success since its publication in 2015. All my rage is a realistic teen novel that centers on two young Pakistani Americans in Juniper, California, a small town in the desert with a military base as its main economic center. This gripping novel examines violence, rage and grief – strong emotions that shape the lives of so many young people. Focusing on young Pakistani American protagonists, the narrative highlights how failed immigrant dreams of success, family trauma, racism and poverty fuel rage and violence.

Salahuddin’s parents run a run-down motel optimistically named The Cloud’s Rest Motel, and Noor is an orphan raised by her uncle, Riaz, who owns a liquor store. Salahuddin’s mother is dying of kidney disease because she has no insurance and cannot afford medical treatment, and her father is an alcoholic. Noor’s parents died in an earthquake in Quetta when she was six years old, and she is the sole survivor of that disaster. Her uncle pulls her out of the rubble, adopts her and brings her to America. To support them, he forgoes his studies and academic aspirations and opens a liquor store. His disappointment and rage at his situation leads him to abuse both Noor and his wife, Brooke. He rejects everything Pakistani – culture, food, religion.

Noor’s solace and source of cultural understanding is Misbah, Salahuddin’s mother who treats her like the daughter she never had. Riaz refuses to support Noor’s academic ambitions of going to college and sees his future as running the liquor store so he can finally go to college. She becomes desperate to leave her abusive life and get out of Juniper and works stealthily to pursue her dreams.

Salahuddin’s father comes from a family where alcoholism is a serious problem and at the heart of family dysfunction. Eventually, the father also becomes an alcoholic. He struggles to cope with life in the United States and the challenges that come with it, including his deep grief over Salahuddin’s childhood trauma.

The two teenagers, Salahuddin and Noor, find themselves as two wounded and traumatized children who understand each other. They begin to develop romantic feelings, and as is often the case in YA storylines, their emotions complicate the friendship. Additionally, they face endemic Islamophobia in their school, poverty and drugs endemic to an underfunded public school system. The music is Noor’s escape while the writing gives comfort to Salahuddin.

When Misbah, Salahuddin’s mother, dies, Noor and Salahuddin’s life takes an even more difficult turn. Both lose the woman who had been the anchor of their lives and they begin to make bad decisions. When they get in trouble with the law, the local imam and his wife step in to help them, and as is customary in YA fiction, their story has a romantic and hopeful ending.

Tahir is an excellent storyteller who balances the conventionality of YA narrative structure with the harsh realities of drug addiction, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. Her characters are drawn with compassion and she balances the difficulties of teenage life with the portrayal of adults like the Imam, his wife Khadijah and Misbah who mentor and support them. The story arc that shifts from desperation to hope and resilience is one that will resonate with the young audience it is aimed at.

This novel offers a significant departure from the glitzy suburban world of model minority South Asians that has recently garnered attention in YA fiction. Her focus on working-class Pakistani Americans living in small-town California emphasizes the heterogeneity of South Asian immigrant experiences.

Sabaa Tahir will read with G. Willow Wilson at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park on March 22, 2022 at 7 p.m.

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Irene B. Bowles