Author Spotlight: Sabina Khan talks The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
I'm so excited to have the amazing Sabina Khan on today's blog! Her contemporary YA debut, THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI, released in January to rave reviews. In addition to being featured on NBC News and the BBC, the book was also chosen as:
A Junior Library Guild Selection A Teen Indie Next List Pick (IndieBound) An Amazon Best Book of the Month for February Seventeen.com's Best YA Books of 2019 B&N Teen Blog's Most Anticipated LGBTQAP Books of 2019 Hypable's Most Anticipated LGBTQ YA Books of 2019 Parade's Buzzworthy YA Books to Read in 2019 BookRiot's Most Anticipated 2019 LGBTQ YA Books of 2019 Paste Magazine's Best YA Books of January 2019
Fight for love. Fight for family. Fight for yourself. Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali has always been fascinated by the universe around her and the laws of physics that keep everything in order. But her life at home isn't so absolute. Unable to come out to her conservative Muslim parents, she keeps that part of her identity hidden. And that means keeping her girlfriend, Ariana, a secret from them too. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life at home and a fresh start at Caltech in the fall. But when Rukhsana's mom catches her and Ariana together, her future begins to collapse around her. Devastated and confused, Rukhsana's parents whisk her off to stay with their extended family in Bangladesh where, along with the loving arms of her grandmother and cousins, she is met with a world of arranged marriages, religious tradition, and intolerance. Fortunately, Rukhsana finds allies along the way and, through reading her grandmother's old diary, finds the courage to take control of her future and fight for her love. A gritty novel that doesn't shy away from the darkest corners of ourselves, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali provides a timely and achingly honest portrait of what it's like to grow up feeling unwelcome in your own culture and proves that love, above all else, has the power to change the world.
And now, here's my chat with Sabina!
Hi, Sabina! Welcome and congrats on the release of The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Megan and thank you so much for having me! Rukhsana has been out in the world for just a little while now and I’m overwhelmed with all the love she’s been getting. So, the story is about Rukhsana Ali, a queer South-Asian Muslim teen who struggles to find a space for herself where she can just be who she is. Her parents can’t find out about her girlfriend Ariana, at least not until they’re both safely away at Caltech, miles away from her home in Seattle. Unfortunately, her mom catches them kissing and all hell breaks loose. Her parents trick her into travelling with them to Bangladesh where they plan to marry her off. Now Rukhsana must find a way to get back control of her life without losing everyone she loves in the process. I was inspired to write this story when my daughter was coming out to us a couple of years ago. I wondered what it would have been like for my daughter if she’d been part of a different, much more conservative family and this story was born.
What was your favorite part of Rukhsana’s internal journey? Was there a scene you were itching to write from the get-go?
Hmm, that’s good question. There were so many parts, some which reflected my own struggles as a South Asian, Muslim immigrant trying to make a good life here for my family, as well as the experiences of my daughters. But if I had to choose just one, it would be when Rukhsana confronts her friends in Seattle for always judging her entire culture based on a single incident and for dismissing her fears about her parents’ reaction if they find out that she’s gay. This happens closer to the end of her journey and it was important, both for myself and my daughters.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Starting on major revisions is always challenging for me. I’ve learned to just break it down into baby steps because that’s the only way I won’t feel completely overwhelmed.
You’ve lived in so many different places! Is it fair to say that each place has left its mark on you/shaped you as a writer?
I would say that’s a very accurate statement. I think it’s inevitable that our life experiences shape us as writers and living in different environments adds more dimensions to that. It allows new perspectives to seep into our consciousness and colors the way we perceive the world and the people around us. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live in many places which have shaped me as a writer and as a human being.
From a motivation standpoint, who was the hardest character to crack in The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali?
Without a doubt, it was Rukhsana’s mother Zubaida. She is such a difficult character to root for because she is primarily the obstacle to Rukhsana’s happiness. But then, as I got deeper and deeper into writing the story, I discovered that her own brutally painful childhood made her the way she is now. And it made me realize that her objections and lack of understanding stemmed from fear that her daughter might end up alienated from their community because of who she was.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali teach you?
I would have to say that writing this story made me realize how much bitterness and pain I still carried inside from my own experiences of marrying outside my religion. A lot of the anger and frustration Rukhsana feels about the way her family and friends treat her are very much what I felt almost 25 years ago. It was cathartic in many ways to finally be able to express those emotions in a way I couldn’t for so long.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m currently obsessing over EMPIRE OF SAND by Tasha Suri and I can’t wait to read KINGDOM OF COPPER by S.A. Chakraborty. But there are so many more that I can’t wait to dive into.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Everyone who’s told me all my life that patience is a virtue was right! I’ve had to work really hard at being patient because as you know waiting is such a huge part of this journey. I’ve also learned to celebrate everything at each step of the way, no matter how big or small. After all, I have the privilege of doing something in my life that I’ve only dreamed of for so long.
Many thanks go out to Sabina for taking the time to tell us more about THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI, and her writing journey. Be to sure to add this heart-wrenching coming-of-age YA to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,