Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate and Other Filters tells the story of Maya Aziz, a first-generation American in her senior year of high school, as she faces the quintessential teen issues—choosing colleges, dealing with “cool kids,” and prom drama. In many ways, this coming-of-age teen drama is like a typical young adult novel, save for the fact that the protagonist is a Muslim woman of Indian descent. Adding that to the mix opens up a Pandora’s box of conflicts on race and identity that many YA protagonists don’t deal with. Maya struggles with her parents’ conservativeness, as her dreams for herself are polar opposites with their expectations of a “good Indian daughter.” As she navigates through all this, her life takes a 180 when a terrorist attack occurs—the main suspect being one who shares her last name.
“Every Muslim I know in America has been burned by Islamophobia in varying degrees,” says Ahmed. A Muslim-Indian immigrant herself, she was only 8 years old when she first felt the brunt of Islamophobia. In the aftermath of the Iran hostage crisis, a grown man yelled at her, “Go home, you goddamned fucking Iranian,” while she was on the road, sticking her head out of the car window. “That incident is crystallized in my memory, and I tried to bring the rawness of that moment to my story,” she shares.
The novel also explores issues like hate crimes and school violence. However, this is watered down by love triangles and prom fantasies. It’s as if Ahmed struggled with the trappings of the YA genre, because Maya is the only round character in the story. Like many YA novels, it oversimplifies teen drama by relying on stereotypes and false dichotomies. When Maya first talks about Phil, she says, “We inhabit separate planets. I take AP classes and blast Florence + the Machine in my earbuds. Phil is the quarterback and homecoming king.” In this fictional world, the jocks are assholes, save for Phil, the green-eyed boy-next-door. His girlfriend, Lisa, and her friends are pretty—just pretty, so much so that Phil isn’t comfortable telling her his college plans. Because of all the stereotypes, it sometimes feels disingenuous and predictable.
It’s in the book’s secondary narrative, which follows the story of the terrorist, that the commentary on race and religion shines. This other storyline follows the terrorist, and the aftermath of his crime. If in Maya’s narrative, Ahmed showcased her ability to create an engaging and feisty first-person voice, in here, she reveals a more mature, cryptic and profound side. Moreover, Ahmed finds her footing in exploring Islamophobia in Maya’s story when the terrorist attack occurs. The insights and feelings that Maya shares, as she deals with hate and alienation, are poignant, raw, and definitive of what the book is truly about: giving a voice to immigrants and people of color.
Overall, Love, Hate, and Other Filters is an easy read and a page-turner due to its fast-paced, plot-driven narrative and concise writing style. Teenagers would breeze through this book, as it never gets too heavy due to the cliché high school drama. Nevertheless, the limited commentary on race, religion, and identity, and the introduction of a Muslim teen to the YA canon are enough cause to celebrate Ahmed’s debut.
LOVE, HATE, AND OTHER FILTERS BY SAMIRA AHMED IS AVAILABLE AT NATIONAL BOOK STORE.