‘Love, Hate & Other Filters’ by Samira Ahmed

/5 stars

Published by Hot Key Books!

Maya Aziz is about to take her life from black and white straight into sharp technicolour. Between fuzzy first kisses, unexpected study dates and aspirations to study film at NYU,  Maya is just like any other teenager. Aside from the fact her mum is trying to set her up with a nice Muslim boy and they want to pigeonhole her into a career as a doctor or lawyer. Apart from all that. But then a terrorist attack takes place and all eyes in the small town Maya has grown up in turn on her and her family. From then on, it seems that Maya starts to pay the price for another individual’s cruel and senseless actions.

‘Love, Hate & Other Filters’ acted as what shouldn’t be a necessary reminder that we are all human. That we all go through those same awkward stages as a teenager, who think our parents are against us. We all experience jelly legs and stomach somersaults when we see our crush in the school hallway. And we all end up having those heady first (or even second or third, because sometimes the first isn’t all it’s cracked up to be) kisses that put us in a daze for days. Even as a Muslim, Maya — shock horror — has all the same cripplingly awkward, cringeworthy moments and emotions that mess with her head. She is you and she is me. And I would quite like to slap this book into the hands of every ignorant human being and make them see that honest human path we have all walked in, whether girl, boy, gay, straight, Muslim, Christian or something else entirely. This is an exploration of how normal Maya is, as if such a story should ever need telling.

But it’s all that — first loves, applying to college stresses — and then some, because a terrorist attack takes place and ignorance and hate spreads like wild fire. And rather than the misguided perpetrator that found themselves in that position being to blame, it is a whole body of people tarnished with the act. Maya and her parents pay the price for another man’s actions and, in turn, we see as attitudes towards her in her schooling life change and turn ugly.

This book was gorgeous, with all the elements of a swoon-worthy contemporary, but with the added value of such a harrowing and timely narrative. I loved seeing the structure of Maya and family unit. Her rigid parents with their Indian traditions and own deeply set aspirations for their daughter. In fragmented conflict, Maya’s passion for film and strong fight against the plans her parents have for her. She was such a wonderful character with such a sense of self. The way in which we see life through Maya was so aptly done with small nods to the art of film and the craft of angles, lighting and a spark of muse that all draw into that. The way Maya sees Phil through her lens is so endearing and romantic that you feel her teenage love right along with her. Along with everything else as her world crumbles down.

The way in which Samira Ahmed chose to tell the narrative of the terrorist alongside Maya’s own story was so well crafted, too. The snapshots into his mindset, and the fallout after, created such a foreboding feeling and set me on edge the entire way through, just waiting for it to all tick over. The coverage showcased in interview snippets and articles was also very telling of how the press today deals with terrorists once they are identified. The Muslim vs the Christian. The POC vs the white man. Where dialogue of a Muslim/POC will be all about their religion and race, commentary around a white man is all about his state of mind and whether he had mental health issues or an unhappy childhood.

‘Love, Hate & Other Filters’ is of its time, giving a fresh voice to Muslims left in the shadows of a terrorist attack and condemning those individuals who take hate and allow it to fuel yet more.

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