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Highlights in the Charts

Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H

Reviewed by Arabella Petts

The title Hijab Butch Blues is, of course, an ode to Leslie Feinberg’s cult classic Stone Butch Blues, which follows the author’s journey of faith, family, community and sexuality.

Hijab Butch Blues is a beautifully written, intelligent and humorous coming-of-age memoir about a queer hijabi Muslim. We follow Lamya, who grew up in the Middle East and never quite fit in. They travel to the USA and must navigate both the immigration system and the queer dating scene.

At each stage of their journey, they turn to their faith to make sense of their life, intertwining stories from the Quran with their own experiences. For example, Maryam has never been touched by a man, and Allah is neither male nor female. Faith is represented throughout the book, as each chapter is named after a prophet whose story is followed by Lamya’s related experience. This decision was insightful for someone without prior knowledge of the prophets, and it was interesting to learn about a new religion.

Like its title inspiration, this book explores what it’s like to navigate the prejudices held in queer circles, but unlike it, they also explore what it’s like to be Muslim and South Asian in these spaces. There are a lot of books which touch on the queer experience, fewer that talk about being butch, and even fewer that link these things to their religion, so reading this was an eye-opening breath of fresh air.

One of the topics explored within the book is Lamya’s coming out journey – more specifically, that they don’t – at least not to their family. They write about the importance of familial relationships and how coming out could mean losing them. As the author said, “This is why my story has to remain untold: I have everything to lose.” This sentiment will resonate with many LGBTQIA+ people, particularly those who come from religious families.

Hijab Butch Blues is an incredibly life-affirming book; many people will have a parallel journey, and many more will relate to at least one part of Lamya’s story. Reading this book reminded me that LGBTQIA+ people exist in all shapes and forms, and I think everyone should read this.

If Only I Had Told Her by Laura Nowlin 

Reviewed by Becky Connolly 

If Only I Had Told Her is the much-anticipated sequel to the BookTok sensation If He Had Been With Me, which has devastated readers across the age ranges of its prescribed YA category and beyond. But how does If Only I Had Told Her fare? Does it live up to the tale of Finny and Autumn that so many people loved before? 

If Only I Had Told Her is a story told in three parts: Finny, his best friend, Jack, and Autumn. The book starts with Finny just before he and Autumn get together. I adored how Finny’s narrative with Autumn is woven with their history. It shows the true complexity and depth of their relationship; every fact about them, every moment they share, is grounded in a lifetime of memories. 

The comparison to Wuthering Heights was also impactful and poignant. Like Heathcliff and Cathy, Finny and Autumn did not grow up together; they grew up as one. If you were heartbroken by Finny’s death before, his brief portrayal in part one would break your heart even more. I also adored learning more about Sylvie. She is a courageous, strong and beautiful character with a complex backstory, which we never saw in the prequel, and I wish there were another book from Sylvie’s perspective.

We then see Jack’s journey to college, which he was meant to embark upon with Finny. I find this an interesting narrative to add in – compared to Autumn and Finn, in If He Had Been With Me, he was certainly a secondary character. However, the sequel is enhanced by his account. Of course, reading about his perspective on Autumn and Finny’s relationship was interesting – how her actions could be so sadly misconstrued. However, I think the most valuable part of Jack’s section is enhancing Finny’s character away from Autumn. We see Jack’s friendship with Finny, the loss, and the toll it takes upon him. I found this deeply moving and fresh, as male friendships are rarely examined so closely in books. 

Then, of course, there’s Autumn. We see her in the aftermath, her bonding with both Jack and reconnecting with Angie, another young mother. I think it’s wonderful that Autumn has a healing arc – she hasn’t gotten over the death of Finn, and perhaps never will – but there is more to her life now. She has reason to continue. Her fight for hope and courage after an irrevocably traumatising and heartbreaking ordeal creates a strong, resilient character. She creates bonds with people from unexpected places. She moves forward. 

If Only I Had Told Her is a tale of loss, heartbreak and how to go on beyond. Don’t be deterred by its belonging to the YA category – Finny and Autumn’s story is heartbreaking, regardless of audience age.


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