By Mitali Chakravarty
Title: She Wore Red Trainers
Author: Na’ima B. Roberts
Publisher: Kube Publishing Children’s Books
Published in 2014
Total number of pages: 261
Price: US$ 12.95
Published in 2014, She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts is a young adult novel set in South London. The arena is a Muslim community that is closely knit and believes Islam to be the saving grace in a world devoid of morality, where only married love is ‘halal’ and therefore acceptable and 18-year-olds are encouraged to succumb to their ‘emotional’ needs and tie the knot. As one of the characters, Auntie Azra, contends,
‘…if a young person feels that they are physically and emotionally ready to be in a relationship, Islam encourages them to do it the right way, with honour. Why do we see nothing wrong with 13-year-olds having sex — which they do — but have such a problem with the idea of an 18 or 19 year old getting married?’
Perhaps, this is a valid concern in a society where dating is the norm from early teens.
The hero Ali and the heroine Amirah are 18 and live by Islamic precepts. They are different from others in their community at the start of the novel as they have dreams of doing something beyond marriage. Amirah feels, ‘If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my short time on earth, it is you don’t have to look, behave or think like everyone else to achieve. Just be sincere, work hard…’ Through the course of the novel the youngsters, in the tradition of Young Adult fiction, journey to a discovery – in this case, ‘halal’ (or accepted) practices of Islam suit them the most.
The novel is narrated in the same technique as Flipped, a YA novel by Wendelin Van Draanen published in 2001(made into a movie in 2010). Both these novels give the boys’ and girls’ perspectives in every alternate chapter on similar issues around the same time frame. However, whereas Flipped is about average teenagers and growing up with good values, irrespective of religion, She Wore Red Trainers deals with a closed community of religious teenagers, the likes of whom I have never encountered in real life. The novel is a documentation of the author’s observations on Islamic culture and its pious lifestyle in London. However, at the end of the novel, the hero and heroine do step out of their familiar comfort zones and set out to explore a larger world.
It is obvious that the author is a devout woman. She converted to Islam at the age of 21 and started a UK-based Muslim women’s magazine called SISTERS and has published books around Muslim themes. This book has been written to project the author’s perception of an Islamic ideal. In the course of the narrative, she has projected their isolation from the ‘haram’ (non-Islamic) world.
The story flows well, the language is effective, though many of the words are Egyptian or Arabic that compels one to look at the book’s glossary to comprehend the full import of the sentence. Despite this hurdle, the book is an easy read. Young adults will enjoy the pages of teenage conversation centering on love, fashion, controlling ones instincts and how to survive in a narrow community with its own value systems. But should teens who do not have the need to date from the age of 13 be exposed to a depiction of a permissive society where dating seems to be a stereotype?
The book does have a reaffirmation of faith winning over negative values as well as a critique of bad parenting and children going astray. A young person runs a holiday camp for Islamic children asserting, ‘They (kids) need role models, people who care about them.’ These are observations that could have taken the novel beyond the scope of a pious read. However, Ms Robert’s persistence in bringing in ‘halal’ and ‘haram’ repeatedly ties it down to one religion and one community. It could have been a good book but at times the insistence on a single way of life can become cloying for the average reader.