Love from A to Z
Love from A to Z is a great modern character study wrapped in a fresh romance, wrapped in a coming of age tale. I did have some mild problems with it, but overall it’s a very absorbing, moving story of two people who have experienced loss and prejudice coming together to find love and understanding with one another.
When placid, heartbroken fifteen-year-old Adam Chen visits the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar at fifteen, he is inspired by the manuscript The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence, vowing to dedicate himself to recognizing the marvels and oddities around him. He begins a journal chronicling just that. Three years later, as a recently-dropped-out college student, he renews his mission, and chooses to live boldly. But he feels isolated; aside from Friday prayers at his local mosque, he doesn’t have much by way of human contact, and due to his religious commitment plans on having only one serious relationship – which has not presented itself yet. Instead he spends his time making things – specifically, gifts for his little sister, and father, both of whom he desperately misses after leaving them behind in Doha to attend college in London. Fortunately, Adam is about to go back to Doha for spring break, where he hopes he’ll be able to keep the secret that he’s been hiding for months – the fact that he’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the illness that took his mother’s life.
Outspoken, academically gifted Zayneb Malik, working under similarly stressed circumstances, stumbled upon the digital version of the same manuscript when she was sixteen while researching thirteenth century hijab styles. She, too, is inspired to start a journal chronicling the oddities, marvels and thorns of her life – and takes her outspokenness to the online world, where she and her friends have joined the anti-racism movement #EatThemAlive, which exposes racists to the world via internet sleuthing. Just after Zayneb turns eighteen, she’s suspended from school for a week for sketching a picture of a knife in the class of an Islamophobic teacher who was her planned first #EatThemAlive target. Her hopes of going to the University of Chicago to join her sister after graduating in the spring are put in jeopardy, as the incident will go on her permanent record.
Zayneb’s mother and father decide that sending Zayneb to Doha to stay with her Aunt Natasha – called Auntie Nandy by Zayneb – a week earlier than intended (she was originally set to go during her spring break and be joined by her mother) is a great idea. She promises not to cause a ruckus (which seems to be her parents’ biggest concern), but when her drawing goes viral, it destroys the case she was creating against Fencer.
Adam and Zayneb see one another on their flight from London to Doha. Zayneb is attracted to Adam’s looks and immediately senses a kind of kinship with him; and Adam notices her The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence notebook and senses she could be his The One, but they don’t speak until they’ve landed and are at the airport, by which point Adam’s heavily smitten. Then Zayneb and her aunt turn up at Adam’s home; it turns out that Zayneb’s Aunt Natasha was Adam’s teacher when he was a child. As the two teenagers get to know one another, their relationship slowly and gently begins to build, as Adam’s symptoms increase and Zayneb’s plans to lead a rebellion against a burkini ban at her aunt’s apartment complex’s swimming pool heat up. But will they be torn apart by their lives at home?
Love from A to Z’s strength is its romance; a wholly believable exploration of first love between two strangers.
Both Adam and Zayneb are dealing with a tough, real-world problem. By her own admission, Zayneb is angry at the world, at the racism she has to face on a daily basis. Her relationship with Adam teaches her to be more vulnerable, to see a world in a more open way – and also inspires her to fight even harder for herself. I enjoyed her friendship with the three teenagers named Emma who become her friends, and her relationship with Auntie Nandy.
Adam’s struggles with his illness –and what his illness signifies to his father and his baby sister – make up the majority of the chapters told from his PoV. Ali’s description of the way the illness wracks him are harrowing; it’s understandable that Adam won’t tell his father because his father watched the speed with which his mother passed on. While he’s driven by the heartbreak that’s haunted him since his mother’s death, I liked best his relationships with Zayneb and the really terrific one he has with his little sister.
I only really have one problem with the book – its framing device, which claims that the novel is ‘drawn’ from the protagonists’ journals and re-written in a narrative style. But that doesn’t come across – the omniscient editor never steps in or has an opinion, in the way of other ‘this novel is real and translated from different source material’ books.
But Love from A to Z is still beautiful, still touching and still thought provoking, a worthy gift for any teenager who’s searching for someone to feel a little less out of place with.