Samantha – Mariam Shah Hits the Road

91dqKHa4YeLTitle: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road

Author: Sheba Karim

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: June 5, 2018

The summer after her freshman year in college, Mariam Sharma is looking forward to working and hanging out with her best friends: irrepressible and beautiful Ghazala (Ghaz) and religious but closeted Umar. However, when a scandalous photo of Ghaz appears on a billboard in Times Square, Mariam and Umar escape to New Orleans in order to rescue her from her furious parents. The friends pile into Umar’s car and start driving south, making all kinds of pit stops along the way–from a college drag party to a Muslim convention, from alarming encounters at roadside diners to honky-tonks and barbeque joints. Along with the adventures, the friends have some hard questions to answer on the road. With her uncle’s address in her pocket, Mariam hopes to learn the truth about her father (and to make sure she didn’t inherit his talent for disappearing). But as each mile of the road trip brings them closer to their own truths, they know they can rely on each other, and laughter, to get them through.

This book was a fairly entertaining read and I loved how it addressed current issues like Islamophobia and sexuality in the context of religion. I liked the road-trip aspect of the novel as well. Umar was my favorite character in the book because of his timely humor and positive character. I also felt that his character encompassed the main struggle between being a part of the LGBTQ+ community while also wanting to stay true to your religious beliefs. Umar’s efforts to balance these two sides of his identity was something that I was most invested in throughout the whole novel. I thought his expression of his identity through his alter ego, drag queen Tabitha Generous, was quite entertaining to read about as well. The very present issue of Islamophobia was also addressed in this book. The main characters, Mariam, Ghaz, and Umar were faced with scrutiny and scorn just because of their religion and what they looked like and I believe that more novels should look at the racial hardships faced by other minority groups, such as Muslim and Hindu Americans.

While I felt that the message of this novel was important, I found the plot to be a little lacking. I felt that throughout the book, partying and drinking was the sole focus and that the deeper messages came near the end of the novel. I also found Mariam to be the least developed character, and by the end, I didn’t know much about her real character. There certainly could have been much more characterization, because I didn’t quite connect with her or even Ghaz, the ‘pretty girl’ of the group. The subplot of Mariam looking for her father also kind of fell through. I thought it would be a bigger part of the story, but it wasn’t really well developed.

Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is an engaging contemporary novel about finding yourself and coming to terms with your identity in a world that says otherwise. Definitely, there needs to be more YA novels from the perspectives of Muslim teenagers. I would recommend it to older YA readers and to those who like Sheba Karim’s other works, like That Thing We Call A Heart, and to those who are fans of Becky Albertalli’s books. I give this book a 5.5 out of 10.