Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile? is the first published novel by Rukhsana Khan, a Canadian Muslim writer. Targeting young tween and teen readers, the story revolves around 13-year-old Zainab. Her older sister Layla is bossy, judgmental, and quick to find fault in her – which is all too easy when Zainab is already struggling to fit in at school, where she’s the only Muslim girl and one of the very few ‘brown’ kids.
The issues Zainab finds herself faced with are many, and darker than what most adults ever suspect their young teens of being confronted with it. Manipulation, bullying, the sexual exploitation of a friend and an attempted suicide are all disturbingly common in the eighth grade.
Desperate to belong, Zainab is trying hard to figure out how to let her Islamic values guide her actions and decisions. How can she help her friend Jenny, who adoringly seeks the attention of the most popular guy at school… despite his predatorial behavior? How can Zainab become popular enough that being brown won’t be a matter of shame? How can she improve herself as a Muslim when her sister Layla insists that she is too flawed to be a properly good Muslimah?
Wisely observing Zainab’s dilemma, her teacher Mr. Weiss gives her a challenge: putting Zainab in charge of the school play. Thinking to use her new position as a way to become more popular with the other kids, Zainab discovers that her new role is more difficult than expected. As she faces new obstacles and navigate through greater conflicts, Zainab learns what it really means to become a brave, responsible Muslimah, by standing up for what’s right even when it seems impossible.
Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile? is a teen novel that I found surprisingly darker and deeper than expected, yet appreciated even more precisely for that fact. Rukhsana Khan doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to broaching these sensitive topics, yet her characters reflect a realistic and compassionate understanding of what it means to be a young person facing difficult situations.
I highly recommend this book for the 11-16 age group, especially for kids who are attending public schools and have almost certainly been exposed to these issues already. This novel is a great way to foster discussion between Muslim parents and teens on how to deal with difficult and serious subject matter.
Zainab bint Younus is a young Canadian Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She’s constantly on the hunt for new (and old) novels written by Muslim authors, and is already looking to replenish her rapidly dwindling collection. Zainab blogs at http://www.TheSalafiFeminist.blogspot.com