Book Review — Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Just when Michael thought that they were done with the whole packing up and leaving, his parents announce otherwise. Now, he has to attend St. Clare’s Catholic School, which isn’t exactly the best place to be for an atheist like him. His presumptions of everyone being uptight and religious are flung out the window, when he gets initiated into a secret club called Heretics Anonymous. Even within the austere boundaries of this school, there exists a group of students who choose to have differing beliefs and aren’t ready to get brainwashed by the system. But when Michael takes it all a step too far, he jeopardizes everything he has worked to build.

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10 points for that cover!

What started out as a hilarious book soon turns into a bit of a serious read and rightly so. Michael’s wit and sarcasm will surely make you crack up at times. There’s such honesty in his thoughts. But underlying all that bravado you get the sense of boy flailing at his inability to stay rooted to a place, and therefore distraught by the constant disruption in his life. This is Katie Henry’s debut novel and I must admit that she has crafted a remarkable storyline. With everything that’s going on in our world, religious intolerance is something that has been cause for concern for a long time now. But do we ever stop to think how children perceive themselves through a religious angle, how do they fit into all this?

In this novel, it is very refreshing to see teenagers who are not only well informed about their choices but also standing up for their beliefs, however different they may be. When Michael joins Heretics Anonymous, he is met with a broad range of thought processes; those belonging to a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan, a Catholic Christian and others that I hadn’t even heard about. The author’s writing complements the story, in that, you feel like you’ve been taken back to your school days. It’s not wordy or hard to digest. It has everything a high-school fiction usually does – drama, betrayal, romance (puppy love?), rebelling. But on top of all that, it has some mature viewpoints too!

Michael’s relation with his father is strained but I couldn’t help feeling bad for them both. In my opinion, they are both right on their part. I just wish that they’d talked it out sooner, because it would’ve prevented a lot of negativity. I didn’t personally connect with any of the characters, but that didn’t deter me from being invested in their story. In conclusion, I did enjoy reading this book, even though I couldn’t understand the hype. If you are the kind of person who gets easily offended by religious and spiritual diversity, maybe this book is not for you. But I hope that’s not true. I hope you can pick up a book like this in good faith and just have fun reading it.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? New perspective on religious identities and all the excitement of attending high-school.

Thank you HarperCollins for this eARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review — Dreamers by Snigdha Poonam

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Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers brings to light the struggles and aspirations of the Indian youth. In a society that is brimming with job seekers, the paucity of employment propels these young Indians into doing whatever it takes to make ends meet. Filled with political stances and the desire to break through the gateway of modernism, this book brings to us the stories of individuals who refuse to back down.

When I heard about this book, I had a slightly different picture in mind; one of a dramatized version of what the youth in India are upto, in order to achieve their dreams. As I began reading this book, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to finish it because of the overwhelmingly detailed content. But the more I read, the more I wanted to know about where India was headed, in terms of the mentality of its youth, their actions. The author’s writing style is commendable. She writes very eloquently, in a non-judgmental manner. Themes of religion, bigotry, woman empowerment, violence, technology and modernism are highlighted throughout this tome.

Something that irked me about this book was that I felt it was not really inclusive. In the sense that it doesn’t draw a fair picture of the youth of India. A majority of the stories were about men (I don’t have a problem with men and neither is this about feminism. So don’t misconstrue my words.) and then, none of the stories covered the southern states of India, or even the East. I agree that it must have been extremely difficult to seek out youngsters from different parts of India. But for equal representation, it would have been nice to know about individuals from different backgrounds. Some of the stories and morals that come to our attention when reading this book concerned me a great deal, because it unearthed the face of a highly intolerable and prejudiced future. While it’s important to be aware of that, it doesn’t color my opinion of everyone below the age of 25 years. This book has just equipped me with the affirmation that we are a fierce bunch, ready to do whatever it takes to fulfill our goals. All in all, I would recommend Dreamers to those who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in the subject matter.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An indepth glance at some of the mindsets that are the future of our country.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum

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Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum is a nonfiction that explores the extent of Islamophobia in Indian society by bringing to light horrid instances of bullying and discrimination of Muslim children in schools. As a Muslim mother, Nazia gives voice to the woes of other Muslim women who are caught in the predicament of owning upto their religious identity or hiding it for fear of being considered to be extremists. She reaches out to children, teachers and parents alike, who have been impacted/ involved in the misleading stereotypes and negative bias associated with Muslims. Over the course of her book, the author draws from various sources the heartrending conclusion that even today, there’s a great deal of animosity surrounding religious communities and more often than not, innocent children are dragged into the aftermath of a verbal bloodbath.

This review will not be a comment on the superiority of any religion, rather it takes into consideration the effect that negative bias has on children. The author’s writing style is punctuated by her desire to get a point across to her readers. She writes in a very collected and matter-of-fact manner. It’s a short book, one that you can finish in less than half a day. Although Nazia incorporates the stories of many families in her narrative, on a molecular level, they are just that – individually recounted instances of bullying and prejudice. Sometimes I wished that they were more seamlessly embedded into a story format. But I understand why it’s important to point out facts pertaining to a prevalent issue in the way she has.

The people featured in this book come from all walks of life. The schools mentioned are a good mix of popular and less-heard-of institutions. All of what’s said in this book is very saddening. What bothers me the most is the fact that children, who don’t even understand the basics of politics and power play, get treated harshly by others; and that too on the basis of what they hear in their homes. Bullying is a very sensitive topic and we don’t get into the details as much, but it’s evident from the children’s inability to grasp the reality of their situation. All in all, it’s not a pleasant picture. But it’s one that must be acknowledged for sure, so that we as a society can come together and remedy the evils that threaten to disintegrate us. I would definitely recommend this book to others so that they can get an understanding of one side of the story.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? – A disheartening glance at the complexities of having an Muslim identity in today’s world.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta

Thank you Penguin Random House India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Summary – The Sacred Sword chronicles the rise of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh warrior to be reckoned with. At the prime age of 9 years, Gobind Rai’s childhood came crashing down when his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was assassinated by the Mughals. In order to restore the Sikh faith in the minds of thousands of people, Gobind assumes the position of guru and begins to train villagers. He builds the Khalsa, a group of extraordinary warriors who mirror the values of Sikhism and fight to defend its honor. Despite all of his successes, the northern kings underestimate his power, plotting with Emperor Aurangzeb to defeat the guru. But they too learn by experience, what it is to cross Guru Gobind Singh. Hindol Sengupta’s novel merges history and fiction to create an empowering tale.

Review – Historical fiction is one of my all time favourite genres. I have never read anything by Hindol Sengupta, so this one was a pleasant surprise. Even though the author forewarns us that there’s a good mixture of fiction in the novel, I found myself rooted to the spot with all of the events I was learning about. I have never been exposed to stories about the Sikh community. And I felt like this book was great in conveying their values, mannerisms and other sensibilities. The fact that their sayings or proverbial phrases were even translated in English was a wonderful addition. You get to understand their religious texts and their perspective about God. Naturally, religion is a major theme in this novel. It poses quite a few questions about the clashing of two religions. In light of their outlook, you find yourself evaluating certain perspectives of yours. Further, the novel also explores elements like war, blind faith etc.

The writing style is refreshing and vivid. For a majority of the novel, I was so inspired by the portrayal of Guru Gobind Singh that I could almost imagine myself as a character in the story. Aurangzeb’s depiction did him no good. I wanted to punch him every time his narcissistic persona made an appearance. The battle scenarios were invigorating to say the least. All those who aren’t familiar with Hindi or Punjabi terms, fear not; there’s a sizable glossary at the end. While the story reflects Guru Gobind Singh’s expertise, we are not made privy to how he became so well versed. I would have liked to know about his upbringing and training. That would have made the story more realistic. Some of the poetry included is truly splendid. I really enjoyed reading The Sacred Sword because it was a worthy history lesson devoid of the monotony of textbooks. It is told from the point of view of Gobind and that makes it more special. If you enjoy historical fictions, PICK UP this novel.

What do you get out of it? Invaluable lessons about loyalty, bravery, the Sikh faith and the tyranny of the Mughals. Overall, a good update on Indian history.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Digressing from Origins

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Omnipotent, named he, who
Meant to have begun it all.
Now struck a chord of curiosity
in disbelieving humans. Questioned
for the sake of clarity, when it was
His answers that blew apart despondence.
In this one entity, the world held importance.
In this one entity, the world saw tyranny.
Energy, form and faces unlike two. All
Possibilities they ventured to undo.
Why must definition hover over faith?
Blind faith, you say? Better it is to have some.
More than gratitude for this one,
What prevailed in the previous grows
Abundantly essential. Its a matter of estrangement
That brings us together. In this quest to seek answers
We forget those who urge us to think. We forget those
Whose questions we are here to solve.
– Meera