The idea that there’s a God out there, or something in the universe that we don’t really understand, that’s infinite, but still cares, that will always care? I don’t know. I wanted to hold onto that feeling, so I started wearing hijab, to shut out the noise, so that I could just be me.

Sunburnt Veils, page 113

It’s not often that I start a book review with the words: definitely one of the best books I’ll read this year, but this was my first thought after I finished reading Sunburnt Veils by Iranian Australian Muslim Feminist, Sara Haghdoosti.

Sunburnt Veils is about Tara, a hijab wearing, first-year wanna be med student who is shy, hard-working, and determined. When Tara is falsely linked to a bomb threat at uni she is thrown into running for student council and comes face to face with the oh, so hot, smooth and charming Alex. Alex is just another drinking, privileged, good-looking rich boy, or is he? What follows is a classic girl meets boy romance except throw in bomb threats, a hijab, racism and coming out, and this becomes a YA novel that is so much more than a teen romance.

So why did I love this book?

  1. Because Sunburnt Veils pulls back the veil of ‘otherness’ surrounding Australian female Muslims and represents them as individuals with a wide range of diversity as any other collective group. Sunburnt Veils breaks down stereotypes of Muslim women.
  2. Sunburnt Veils clearly represents the racism and prejudice that I feel we like to minimise in Australia.
  3. The characterisation in the novel is brilliantly done from Tara’s sophisticated, lawyer mum to the privileged Jess with her self-serving rhetoric.
  4. The romance between Tara and Alex was totally on point!
  5. There are so many good lines in this book that my pencil got a fantastic workout. Here are some of my favourite quotes:
  • ‘I ain’t saying it’s fair. I’m saying it’s your story and you’re the only one who can change it.’ (p67)
  • I had started wearing hijab because I couldn’t change the world without holding on to my own sense of worth. The hijab was a daily reminder that there was more to who I was and what I wanted than other people’s approval. (p72 & 73)
  • The hijab, for me, was a redirection, even a second chance and because of that it was a reminder that what made us worthy, special even as humans was our imperfection. That I would make mistakes and still be loved. I needed that reassurance to think about changing the world, to believe that I could do big, bold, scary things – and that even if none of it worked out, I’d still be worthy, still be loved. (p73)
  • I surrendered to the power that was so much bigger than me – and remembered that my life was just a moment in eternity, that I was only one soul in billions that God shepherded. My life mattered and there was almost no way for people to remember my name in a thousand years. I couldn’t wait until the time was right to do good. I only had the now. (p74)
  • I wanted to do something more. I wanted to be worthy of the life and blessings I had. (p74)

Sunburnt Veils lifts the lid on being a Feminist Muslim in Australia, and what it takes to truly belong. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and reaching for something higher than yourself. I highly recommend this wonderfully entertaining, #OwnVoices novel. Bravo, Sara Haghdoosti on a fabulous debut .

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Sunburnt Veils is a smart, funny, character-based exploration of Islamophobia through a heroine who’s the kind of girl who reads at parties, but pushes herself to take a visible stand after a fellow student calls in a bomb threat on her first day of university, after she leaves a bag in a lecture theatre to take a phone call.

Girl meets boy, ghosts his text messages, then convinces him to help her run for the student union. Just your typical love story with a hijabi twist.

Tara wears hijab even though her parents hate it, and in a swipe right world she’s looking for the ‘will go to the ends of the earth for you’ type of love. Or, she would be, if she hadn’t sworn off boys to focus on getting into med. Besides, what’s wrong with just crushing on the assassins, mages and thieves in the fantasy books she reads?

When a bomb threat on her first day of university throws her together with totally annoying party king and oh-so-entitled politician’s son Alex, things get complicated. Tara needs to decide if she’s happy reading about heroes, or if she’s ready to step up and be one herself.

Sara Haghdoosti was born in Iran, grew up in Sydney and now lives in Chicago. Like her protagonist, she has been politically active from a young age. Sara got her start in organising at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and then went on to work at GetUp, Change.org, the Mozilla Foundation and founded Berim (‘Let’s go’ in Farsi) – a non-profit that worked to support change makers in Iran. She’s currently the Deputy Director at Win Without War. Her writing has appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Drum and she’s been a panelist on ABC TV’s Q&ASunburnt Veils is her first novel.

Many thanks to the lovely folks at Wakefield Press for sending me a copy of Sunburnt Veils.