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The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali

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Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 29, 2019

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About the author

Sabina Khan

6 books527 followers

Sabina Khan is the acclaimed author of WHAT A DESI GIRL WANTS, MEET ME IN MUMBAI, ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE & THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI. She has lived in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas before finally settling down in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not writing, you can find her playing with her adorable puppy, picking new songs for Karaoke or sitting in a coffee shop dreaming up new stories and characters.

Her books have received starred trade reviews; were a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Teen Indie Next Pick, were on the “Best Of” lists of Oprah Magazine and Seventeen, were featured on NBC News and the BBC, the NYT, Teen Vogue, as well as short-listed for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize and the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Awards.

Find her on Twitter and Instagram @sabina_writer
Website: https://sabina-khan.com/

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,683 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
August 10, 2019
I really wish this book had been given more editing rounds.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali follows Rukhsana, a gay girl who is sent to Bangladesh and put into an arranged marriage after being caught in kissing her girlfriend.

So despite my three-star, there were a lot of fantastic aspects of this that I’m sure many will really enjoy!! The representation of Bengali culture is #ownvoices and feels very full-of-heart. Rukhsana’s situation is handled with a good deal of care; her scenario is deeply psychologically terrifying, and I think the author does an excellent job of playing around with this.

I think the value of this book is its representation of the fact that not every Bengali person thinks the same way, as American media outlets and White American cultural centers often assume. There's an excellent discussion here of Bengali LGBTQ activism; Sohail's character is an amazing touch and made me love this book so much about halfway through (). And indeed, I liked the portrayal of the fact that even the thoughts of Rukhsana’s parents are influenced by their background; as fucked up as what they are doing is, they are not portrayed as evil people, simply deeply misguided ones. I loved this conversation Rukhsana has with her friends:
“Every time I say something bad about my family, it becomes more about where I come from than just regular stuff people go through with their parents.”

I also adored reading about the support of other parts of Rukhsana’s family. Aunty Meena’s lesbianism conversation was so iconic. Shaila is so supportive, and her relationship with Rukhsana is such a nice touch; I’ve never really noticed this, but I don’t think cousins are often major players in YA books? And my cousins are such a big part of my life that all of these scenes really hit. Nani, Rukhsana’s grandmother, is an utterly fantastic character; her story absolutely killed me. I genuinely think most of the shining moments of the novel originate from Rukhsana's conversations with Nani. These sections got me and got me hard.

I think my main problem with this was the actual writing was… just flat out not amazing. There is an overwhelming degree of Tell, Not Show in terms of story. Occasionally, Rukhsana changes emotions between paragraphs, making her feel like an irrational character - which she clearly isn't intended to be. This carries over to characters like Rukhsana's girlfriend, Ariana, who just doesn't have a consistent personality and as a result does not read as likable as I think she's meant to be. Plot points often feel really random and abrupt for the story due to lack of writing consistency.

But what's weird is I think I probably would have gotten past that. Sure, the writing is not great, but the story is good, I see the broad strokes of the characters, I like the themes explored. I think I would have given this a 3 1/2 and rounded up, until… the last quarter.

I am someone who really does not click with surprise twists in which you think everything is going to be good again, and then it all goes to shit. I am especially uncomfortable with how this particular twist occurs and its impact on the narrative. It’s impactful and important to point out the extent to which lgbtq people suffer under homophobia, but for me… it deeply did not work.

I think this twist… might (heavy emphasis on might) have worked if the book had been more consistent about themes, but it honestly just felt like… a really out-of-taste plot point to me.
Here's an ownvoices review by user Rushda that I think says this quite well:
Though it was not there for shock value, the timing of it made it come across that way and, in my opinion, it was totally needless. It was not given adequate time and was rushed through, making it seem more like a convenient plot point for others' character development than a genuine tragedy.

The way this twist is used essentially uses gay pain, and really graphic and heavy gay pain, to make Rukhsana's parents decide homophobia is bad, actually. This is somewhat lazy and on a far more personal level, a decision I found disturbing, given the history of the trope employed.

I have issues with how we got there. But the ending made me tear up. I think the thing about this book is that it comes so close to being something genuinely revolutionary and it still... sort of is? It has something to say. It just says it in a way that is not as incredible as it could be.

TW: arranged marriage, colorism, fetishism, heavy although very good discussion and description of sexual assault,

Arc received from the publisher via local bookstore for an honest review.
releases: January 29 2019.

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Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
916 reviews13.9k followers
June 12, 2019
This book started out promising during the first half because I liked the f/f relationship, Rukhsana's family, and the discussions about being closeted in an unaccepting family and how that affects your relationship. But the middle and end of this book quickly brought this book down for me.

My biggest issue with this book is completely personal, but I just wasn't ready for how cruel and dark the storyline is, and I don't think I should have read it at this point in my life (especially during pride month). Rukhsana endures a LOT of bullshit and homophobia, and often times, violent circumstances initiated and encouraged by her close family. This, paired with a writing style I didn't love and an audiobook narrator who at times had awkward and cringy delivery, made it painful to read in a way that didn't end up being resolved.

The writing style was unbearably dry because it was a lot of the narrator explaining and telling her thoughts and what's going on rather than actually fleshing out the story. The audiobook might have made this sound worse than it actually was, but it felt like every other line, the narrator was giving the reader blatant and unimaginative explanations of things that were either self-explanatory or could have been implied without being so up-front and cheesy. The writing style just wasn't remarkable to me, and instances that annoyed me began to accumulate throughout the novel.

The one plot point I struggled to get past, though, is that Rukhsana's parents are A W F U L to her, in ways that I find would be triggering for a lot of readers (especially lesbian readers), and yet this book ends with a tidy bow on it like everything is fine. Rukhsana's parents put their child (and her girlfriend) through a deal of actual physical punishment for being gay (including an exorcism, drugging her, locking her in rooms, hitting her, etc), they were manipulative, and also verbally abusive, and they were granted forgiveness far too easily in my opinion for how much trauma Rukhsana had to endure. (I want to disclaim that maybe I don't understand why Rukhsana did the things she did because she has different experiences than me as a woman of color, but I still think that she objectively deserved better.) Also, it was disturbing that a gay person had to die in order for her parents to come to their senses and want to accept her. The author using that character's death made it feel like they were only introduced to further the plot so that Rukhsana's parents could make a ~realization~ about their own daughter, which I think was counter-intuitive in a story supporting gay women and men. Certainly, there's a discussion to be had about the violence that gay women and men are subjected to, but using that violence as a catalyst to further someone else's storyline I found very distasteful.

There were redeeming parts to this, which is why it wasn't a complete one star. I liked the cultural aspects of this and the role Rukhsana's extensive family plays, as well as the actual setting of Bangladesh, even though I wish the author had described it more skillfully. Rukhsana's eventual discussion with her friend group about her family and sexuality and culture I thought was really meaningful and rounded it all up nicely, as well. But I just can't get over how this book brushed off INTENSE homophobia within such a short time period. I don't doubt that this is just my own reaction to how I would have personally handled that situation, so I won't go as far as to say that you shouldn't read this book, but I just had a lot of disagreements with the way that this book handled multiple plot points, so it wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Christy.
3,812 reviews32.4k followers
March 10, 2019
4 stars

 photo 2907B232-A55A-4B41-B02C-3F60A9FF5C8C_zpsgmbseerf.png

This book was heavy. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this heavy. Sabina Khan wrote from her heart and this book is an important one.

Rukhsana is just a teenage girl, but she’s not. She’s torn between two worlds. Her home life, where she lives with her younger brother and her two strict muslim parents, and her life at school, where she can be herself. A teenager with a girlfriend named Ariana. But Rukhsana fears she can never truly be herself, as her family wouldn’t accept her.

Her fears are justified, that’s for sure. When her mom catches her kissing her girlfriend, all hell breaks loose. A trip back to Bangladesh turns into something else all together. Ruhksana is in for the fight of her life. I don’t want to talk too much about what happens, because I went in mostly blind, but please know there are some not easy to read about topics in this book. I had so much anxiety while reading this one and was terrified about what would happen.

Rukhsana was a great character. She was so strong and went through so much. I loved many of the secondary characters as well. Specifically her brother, cousin, and of course her grandmother. If someone as old as her who has always lived in Bangladesh could accept Rukhsana for who she was, all was right in the world.
"We must be the masters of our own destinies. I did not learn that until it was too late. You have to fight to take back control of your life. Sometimes you will hurt the ones you love the most. But in the end, it will always have to be your choice.”

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is heartbreaking, super heavy and emotional, but also had moments of lightness and scenes that made me laugh out loud. It was a great balance. And it was so well written. This one wasn’t an easy read, but I’m glad I read it. It’s real, raw, and in the end, was heartwarming. I listened to the audio book and the narration was fantastic. Highly recommended!!
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
547 reviews3,543 followers
March 24, 2019
Actual rating: 4.5 stars

*I received an Arc of this book in exchange of an honest review*

CW: Colorism, homophobia, islamophobia, physical assault, hospital, graphic description of rape and domestic abuse, starvation, drugging, forced marriage, death of a loved one, hate crime.

Full review originally posted on my blog: Word Wonders

Uh. How does one start a review for a book that’s ripped them open? I have procrastinated this review for a month and a half, I’ve procrastinated it until I literally couldn’t procrastinate it anymore. Because every time I opened the page to start typing it up I felt like I was cracking my heart open and giving the world permission to peer into it and have a panoramic view of my soul, and that idea alone is terrifying. But here I am today, getting my crap together finally, and refusing to go to sleep (it’s past midnight oops) until I finally string some sentences together that will somehow make up a review at the end.

The writing is fairly simple and sometimes…a little scattered, in the way the pacing and emotions were handled. During the first chunk of the book (around a third I’d say), the writing is detached and doesn’t translate the emotions the characters are feeling and that we’re supposed to be feeling with them well. Especially when it came to Rukhsana’s relationship with Ariana, I rooted for them out of principle, and because of how much was at stake, but not because I was invested in them. There was also this thing that happened quite a few times where Rukhsana’s feelings would change from one paragraph to the next. Which is the only reason I ended up not giving the book five starts. Everything else was absolutely amazing. And I was too emotionally invested in the book to rate it any less than 4.5.

The story goes like this: Rukhsana, A Bengladeshi lesbian Muslim girl who’s closeted has a girlfriend, but she also has unaccepting parents. Said parents find out about the girlfriend and everything goes up in flames. And I don’t say that lightely. Everything that happens to Rukhsana is a queer person who’s been brought up in a conservative household’s worst nightmare. I found myself fighting panic and anxiety, tears and fury, having to remind myself that yes, these things happen to so many, but this one in particular is a work of fiction. And honestly, just writing this review is bringing tears to my eyes. That’s how gutting and visceral reading The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali was, I kept forgetting that it was a book.

Remember how I said emotions didn’t translate properly through the writing in the first chunk? Well, that was reversed in the rest of the book, in fact, I was overwhelmed by feelings. The anger, the fear, the resilience, the hope, the desperation, all of it, I could feel every single thing. And what struck me the most is the loneliness of it all. Rukhsana is very close with her brother, at times, he seems to be the only one who truly understands her struggles, but he’s not there when she needs him the most. Her parents are who she’s fighting against. Her friends and girlfriend come from environments that are a lot more liberal so they don’t understand what’s at stake for her, and the kind of pushback she’s facing and most times make her feel even worse.

But then the book surprises you a gives you a sliver of hope in the darkest of corners. Her uncle who pushes back against her parents’ backwards thinking. Irfan, the man she’s forced to marry but who wants the arrangement even less than she does, she finds in him true support and friendship. But most of all, her supportive grandma who is quite frankly a treasure and a well of wisdom. She turned to her words and her guidance whenever she felt helpless and they gave her strength, and I think that the moments she shared with her, or that she spent reading her diary, are the ones that left the biggest mark on me, because they made me realize that bigotry and homophobia aren’t a generational issue, they’re an issue of people being too set in their ways and unwilling to open their hearts.
Because if an elderly lady who’s never left her beloved Bangladesh can accept her gay granddaughter without question, there are no excuses for the rest of the world. And that’s another thing I appreciated about the book, is that it showed that everyone has their own personal opinion and stance regardless of their degree of faith, and that’s something that spoke to me very deeply.
Rukhsana is such a solid main character, Sabina Khan did a great job at showing how weighted down she was by all the choices that were being made for her and the freedoms that were being stripped away from her, while she still kept teenage characteristics to her. She’s strong, confident, and stubborn but in the best way, she refuses to give up on herself, and give in to what her parents are forcing her to do, and I loved that even during her moments of weakness and complete despair, she still had faith that she could find a way out of that situation.

There’s this one plot point towards the end that’s major and changes the direction of the story, that I feel a lot of people would not feel comfortable with. I personally didn’t have any issue with those things being used in the plot, as I could easily see them happen in my own country, (which resembles Bangladesh in a lot of ways) to someone I know, even.

This book hit on some very raw and sensitive nerves of mine and for that I can’t help but love it and will forever be grateful for it. Especially, since for how much darkness and despair it holds, the ending is so hopeful and sprinkled with light-hearted moments that had me smiling and sighing with relief. I liked how not every issue was resolved and that Rukhsana still had lot of trauma to work through when it comes to what her parents put her through but there was still this redemption arc that made me see the light at the end of the tunnel and made the future look a lot less glib.
February 17, 2020

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Edit/2/16/2020: This book is on sale right now for $1.99!

THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI is a tough book to rate because there were things about it I really liked, and things about it I didn't. I don't think I have ever read a book about a gay Muslim girl before, so that is a major plus, because diversity is important and I'm glad that publishers are actually making an effort to include not just stories about non-white, non-christian characters, but also stories about those characters that explore gritty topics and aren't afraid to make the reader uncomfortable.

Rukhsana is seventeen-years-old and in many ways, she's a lot like any other typical teenager: she goes out with friends, hides her scandalous clothes from her parents, and experiments with alcohol. But she is also a lesbian and has a secret girlfriend that she has yet to tell her strict Muslim parents about. She hates lying, and her girlfriend hates being treated like a guilty secret, but Rukhsana is afraid that her parents will completely freak out if they find out her sexual orientation and take drastic action, including, but not limited to, denying her wish to go to Caltech.

It was hard to like Rukhsana- the way she treated Ariana wasn't great and I don't think it was the best example of a healthy relationship. Was it an example of a real high school relationship? Definitely. Lots of lying, lots of anxiety, lots of attraction. Younger readers might be more willing to tolerate Rukhsana's actions and find them more identifiable, but I didn't really see the appeal there. I sympathized with her problems and understood that she was coming from a difficult place. The struggle between family tradition and finding one's own way was done really well and I thought Sabina Khan did a good job showing the emotional tug of war that Rukhsana was in.

The biggest problem with this book, for me, was the writing. It was disjointed and the dialogue felt wooden and inauthentic in a lot of places. I didn't really feel like I was reading from the voice of a real teenager, even though Rukhsana was selfish and self-absorbed in a way that a lot of teens probably are, the way it was written really didn't reflect that. The writing gets much better towards the end of the book, when Rukhsana's parents find out about her girlfriend and do go ballistic.

In the book, Rukhsana's parents try to push her towards two boys, Ifran and Sohail, and both of them have dating problems of their own that their parents aren't going to want to come to terms with. I liked that the author didn't try to make these boys evil to make her relationship with Ariana seem more "pure" by comparison, and enjoyed the discussions that arose from her conversations with these boys about things like parental acceptance, dating outside your ethnic group, being an LGBT+ Muslim, and hate crimes. It was harder to reconcile Rukhsana's parents' reactions to Rukhsana's sexuality. Without going into too many details and spoiling things, some of what they did was definitely abuse from a Western lens, but I know parenting is different in different cultures, so maybe what they did is considered normal or forgiving in Muslim/Bengladeshi culture. I can't presume to say, but I found it really disturbing to read at some points and hard to stomach.

There's also three pretty devastating reveals that happen towards the end of the book with three different characters, all three came out of left field and are potentially triggering. They involve hate crimes and physical/sexual violence.

Even though THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI is a bit uneven, I think it raises a lot of valid topics that many teenagers are facing and dealing with today in a rapidly changing society where the younger generation is often much more liberal and dynamic than their more traditional and conservative elders. It's also a great portrait of a sometimes toxic family dynamic and familial acceptance, love, and forgiveness. Scholastic seems to be taking more risks with their books lately, and I appreciate that, even if I didn't love this book the way I wanted to.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3 to 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Saajid Hosein.
128 reviews694 followers
February 18, 2019
where the fuck do i even begin?

i don't fucking know, that's the answer. just read the damn book.

n.b. i should also mentions tw for homophobic violence and sexual assault. proceed with caution if you're sensitive to those.
Profile Image for ellie.
544 reviews165 followers
April 9, 2019
a part of my heart is in this book, and i loved finding it as i read rukhsana's story. this was almost painfully relatable, but in a way that i loved it for doing so, if that makes sense? i loved rukhsana, her thoughts, her humor and most of the characters we follow. the writing was just a little awkward for me sometimes, but i think the author can only improve from here, so im excited to see what she will write next!

honestly? i'm just so glad this book exists.

It was not easy finding a way to reconcile these two equally vital parts of my identity, my life. But it was definitely worth fighting for.

"You have no idea how hard it is to constantly feel like you have to represent your entire culture. And to try and juggle all these expectations."

original review:

no i don't think y'all understand how excited i am for this book. it's hard enough to get poc representation for asians, but we're getting lgbt+ asian rep? are you KIDDING? this is everything i didn't think i'd get so soon. growing up part of an oppressive culture that frowns on anyone breaking the tradition made me feel so unhappy because i knew i didn't fit the mold. i was so terrified. and now i'll get to see a character go through that too, even if it it's islam, and not hinduism. i'll see her struggle to deal with a world that doesn't like her, but it's the only world she knows. i'll see myself in her. for the first time, i can see myself in a character.

excuse me while go to i cry my eyes out!
Profile Image for Lauren Lanz.
684 reviews246 followers
February 4, 2021
“We are who we are. No one can change that. Just like we cannot change whom we love.”

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is unlike any contemporary I’ve read before. Going in, I expected a story of a girl searching for acceptance from her close-minded family. What I never anticipated was the amount of heartache that came along with Rukhsana’s journey. I became so attached to the protagonist and the friends she met in Bangladesh; rooting for their happiness became instinct.

~★~ What is this book about? ~★~

Rukhsana Ali is daughter to Muslim Bangladeshi parents; she knows they would never approve of her secret party life and beloved girlfriend Ariana. At home, Rukhsana has grown used to her parents’ blatant favouritism towards her younger brother, and can’t wait to move away with her university scholarship next year. This is all compromised when Rukhsana’s mom catches her kissing Ariana, and all of her plans come crashing down on her.


This book was a rollercoaster, that’s for sure. From the beginning, I felt a deep hatred for Rukhsana’s parents and the way they treated their daughter, especially considering how much she tried to please them. The author did an amazing job fleshing out her family in the sense that I was able to form strong opinions on each relative from the start.

I loved the representation of Bangladeshi culture; it’s not often that I come across YA queer contemporary that is focused partially in another country. It was also wonderful to see Sabina Khan’s inclusion of supportive family members for Rukhsana to lean on, and the commentary that not all Muslim’s are homophobic like stereotypes suggest.

This book isn’t a light romance, that’s for sure. The author tackles lots of important and potentially triggering topics which aren’t talked about enough in YA. The last third before the ending completely broke my heart: I enjoyed the way things concluded, though I couldn’t forgive certain characters for what they did.

There were a few aspects I wasn’t the biggest fan of within this book. Rukhsana and her girlfriend didn’t seem to have much chemistry, though I do think they could be considered a pretty accurate representation of a high school relationship. It was frustrating to see Ariana undermine the severity of how strict (and homophobic) Rukhsana’s parents were; at times it felt like the two really didn’t understand each other / function well as a couple. I can also admit that the writing wasn’t the greatest, however, it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment much. This was in my opinion a really great read!

Trigger warnings: homophobia, child abuse, sexual abuse, mention of murder.
Profile Image for julianna ➹.
207 reviews263 followers
April 27, 2021
I think my main problem with this book is the thing that everyone else also noticed, which was the writing. It was really disjointed at times and it really felt like the author was trying to cram in all the motions of a daily life, which just wasn’t really necessary? There wasn’t a good sense of time passage, it was overall kind of choppy, and the tenses switched up at different times.

However, I seriously think that this could be improved in the future and I will definitely be reading Sabina’s later works! But if the writing was better, I think this novel could have been a four or five-star read, honestly.

Besides all this, however, this has some very important topics that need to be represented in fiction, and I think that Sabina Khan did a really good job on them. This novel shows that not all Bengali people are sexist/homophobic/etc., and I think that this is particularly important to dismantle the widespread notion of all Bengali people as a monolith. She does this through multiple characters, such as Rukhsana’s cousin, brother, and her grandmother, whom support Rukhsana’s orientation.

Sabina also demonstrates the huge disconnect that second generation immigrants often feel from their peers, as Rukhsana often mentions the punishments or feelings of her parents, and her friends often think that she’s exaggerating about her family. I really, really appreciated this as a person of color; while I’m not at all shamed or regarded that differently from my white peers, I definitely used to be very self-conscious about my cultural differences compared to my white friends.

Other heavy themes explored include rape and marriage at a young age and how painful it is to know that you have no way out of an abusive household. Sexism is also prevalent, as Rukhsana’s parents often treat Rukhsana’s brother better than they treat Rukhsana. Side relationships include an m/m relationship as well as a biracial m/f relationship.

On a happier note, there was a large presence of food in this novel which I absolutely loved. I really loved how the fact that food is a HUGE part of Bengali culture was represented, in both the many descriptions of food and also in that the parents love to feed other people’s children & take a point in pride of making people eat a lot. The descriptions of all of the food made me so hungry and I personally would really love to delve deeper into this cuisine.

In case any of you want to know whether there’s a happy ending, I’ll put it here in a spoiler tag: .

Here are some important reviews to read:
Kav’s review / Fadwa’s review

Trigger and content warnings for homophobia (specifically ), physical violence (a slap on the cheek), rape, domestic abuse, arranged marriage at a really young age (around 13-15), sexism, fetishism, racism, and colorism.

Specific representation includes a Bengali main character (Rukhsana) and main cast (Ruksana’s family; Rukhsana’s school friends are mostly white), a lesbian main character (Rukhsana), a sapphic love interest (Ariana), a biracial relationship, and an m/m relationship.
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
595 reviews817 followers
May 9, 2020
I had a lot of high hopes for this book, and I'm really sad that it just was not my favorite read.

I think the most notable positive about this book was the fantastic representation of Bengali culture (oh my gosh the food made me drool) and how Rukhsana dealt with racism. She confronts her white friends about ways they made her feel uncomfortable/unwelcome/they were not understanding and this scene was definitely one of my favorites in the book.

Similarly, I really enjoyed reading Rukhsana diffuse some of her own assumptions about queer culture in America vs. queer culture in other countries, and talk to some of the queer community members in Bangladesh about queer culture in the country. I think a really huge US-centrism exists and I like how Khan actively talked about that in this book.

The premise is just so interesting and something that I expected myself to love! I really enjoyed how it talked about things that aren't normally talked about, and how Rukhsana let girls who aren't normally represented often be represented.

But, I think there were just some technical problems in the book that I couldn't ignore, and this is why my rating is so low.

I think one of my biggest issues was just that the writing was a little messy and juvenile. It's not like I'm expecting this to be Shakespeare, but the writing just felt uncohesive and kind of rushed.

Sometimes Rukhsana would change emotions just like *that* in the middle of a paragraph, and it was kind of disorienting for the reader to read that. It was just a little unpolished-feeling in general--the pacing of the writing was a bit off, the emotions were a bit off, the story didn't necessarily flow.

I am still really interested in seeing what Sabina Khan brings to the table, but right now I just wasn't satisfied with what I got in The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali.

Going along with the emotions being off, it kind of felt like the emotional subtext didn't match the plot. I was looking for more parallels with what was going on in Rukhsana's mind and what was going on around her, and sometimes it just felt off and not really aligned. I can't explain it properly, but I think it just didn't fit smoothly enough together that I actually noticed the disconnect.

Honestly, I feel like my biggest problem with this was how I feel like Rukhsana honestly didn't learn much. It didn't feel like a journey where Rukhsana grew as a person, but rather a story about how other people learned to accept Rukhsana, not about Rukhsana learning something.

I just--I think Rukhsana in the end wasn't actually a very dynamic character. I don't think she learned much and I don't think she really got to experience the true depth of what she went through and the emotional impact of it, and that's largely why I struggled with this book.

Plus the plot went a little bit out there.

Overall, I think this was a really good concept, but I just feel like the execution was lacking enough that I'm giving this a mediocre star rating. I am excited to see what Khan brings to the table in the future, but right now The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali just wasn't my favorite read.

Thank you so much to Sabina Khan for sending me an advance reader's copy in her giveaway!

TW: Rape + Domestic Abuse
Profile Image for gillyweed.
31 reviews4 followers
September 6, 2019
It is with deep regret that I say I was let down by this book.

I received an ARC with wild anticipation, and am so heartened that Sabina Khan wanted to provide intersectionality to queer literature. It goes without saying that we have precious few authors willing to broach the topic of queer Muslim lives, and I was delighted to hear that Rukhsana Ali would be providing valuable representation of this.

Unfortunately - and this is partially my own fault, having developed such high expectations - I was not at all impressed with this book.

It is painfully clear that Sabina Khan, whatever her good intentions, is either extremely uncomfortable discussing queerness in a Muslim context (or even at all), or woefully unaware of what being queer is, Muslim or not.

Rukhsana's identification as a lesbian is nominal, at best. She spends extended periods of time admiring the physical appearances of male characters, but a description of her actual girlfriend is not once offered. I have no idea what Ariana looks like, other than that she wore glasses, a ponytail, and a sweater one time when they were studying at Starbucks.

Further to this, Rukhsana's relationship with the largely-absent Ariana is an incredibly toxic one. Ariana is racist and selfish (only less racist than Rukhsana's utterly horrible friends), and Rukhsana rarely ever thinks of her. She's a wisp of a character, there only in name, and occasional mentions that feel more obligatory than intentional. It forces the reader to ask "Exactly why is Rukhsana bothering to risk her relationships with her family on this horrible girl who she barely spares a second thought for, and who cares so little about Rukhsana's own well-being?" I can't imagine it is intentional, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this depiction of a lesbian relationship might actually serve to disillusion a closeted queer from bothering with their sexuality. If the best they can hope for is that their conservative parents accept and celebrate that they are in an abusive relationship with a racist white girl, like.. why...?

Rukhsana has no engagement with queer media or culture, despite being a Gen-Z teen living in the United States. Aside from a throwaway mention of Grey's Anatomy and One Day at a Time, she is possibly the least engaged teenager I have ever read, let alone met in person. This girl doesn't even have a tumblr account, let alone any other form of social media.

Rukhsana's lack of interest/knowledge of queer culture and representation as a high school student in 2018/2019 Seattle could be forgiven if it wasn't clear that this was simply a lack of research by the author. It is evident that Rukhsana doesn't know who Hayley Kiyoko is because the author herself has not herself engaged with queer women/teens in America, nor does it appear she has engaged with queer communities in Bangladesh, either, beyond perhaps reading a news story about the odd murdered gay man.

What is also very clear is that Sabina Kahn's comfort zone is Bengali culture. In stark contrast to the ridiculously watered-down representation of Rukhsana's sexual identity, she comes alive in sequences where she engages with her family over food, or shopping for new saris. Indeed, it would not surprise me in the least to find out that The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali was originally a story about a straight girl dealing with the process of arranged marriage. This aspect of the story is strong and coherent in its composition, and consistent in characterizations, tone, and plot. Everything connected to Rukhsana's queerness, on the other hand, feels peripheral to this in development, like a tertiary, half-hearted addition to a much more complete text.

I feel like I should apologize for my negativity, which appears to be in stark contrast to others' reviews of this book. I am desperately happy that Sabina Khan wanted to provide literary representation for her daughter and for a vastly underrepresented perspective. But unfortunately, this falls into a "not all representation is good representation" category for me as a cautionary tale for authors intent to write about perspectives they have neither lived or engaged with themselves, nor dedicated sufficient thought or research to in order to provide legitimate commentary on.

Thank you for your attempt, Sabina, but on the queer score this book is being specifically marketed for, it's a "no" from me. :(
Profile Image for Kiera.
319 reviews117 followers
March 10, 2019
5 stars.

This book shattered my heart, and then picked up the pieces and put it back together

Summary from Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life

Wow. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali was amazing. I flew through this book.

Things I didn't love

Some parts of the book were a bit unrealistic

Things I loved

The diverse characters. This book follows a Muslim lesbian teen.
The characters were great and they were all very well developed.
The writing was so beautiful.
While this read was definitely a bit heavier on substance than a regular contemporaries usually are it wasn't long or boring.
I liked how it was short and sweet.This book deals with some really serious issues that are present to today's teens and I thought that all of these issues were shown well in the book.
I liked how you got to see a glimpse into Bengali culture and learn about their food and their customs.
The dialogue and the interaction between the characters was well written.
The book was very well paced and relatively easy to follow.

"You must never let anyone take your happiness from you. You are young and strong and you must fight."

"Do you know why I have kept this veil all these years?" she said.

"Because our wore it at your wedding."

She shook her head. "No ammu. I kept it as a reminder to never let anyone force me into a life I didn't want."

Age Recommendation

Ages 14 up

Very little swearing (if any)

Romance, but just kissing

Only a few explicit scenes involving sex, but not super detailed.


I really enjoyed The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali it was a great book. While some parts were a bit unrealistic I loved how the story was written. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2019.

5 stars.
Profile Image for kav (xreadingsolacex).
177 reviews345 followers
July 20, 2020
disclaimer: i received an arc in exchange for an honest review. this is no way impacted my opinions.

trigger warnings: homophobia, colorism, emotional & physical abuse, hate crimes, implied rape/sexual assault (all of these are combated and not okay-ed, but they are definitely existing themes throughout the book)

You have no idea how hard it is to constantly feel like you have to represent your entire culture.

Sandhya Menon, the author of When Dimple Met Rishi, blurbs this novel by saying "This book will break your heart and then piece it back together again."

I firmly believe that this completely represent my experience with this novel.

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan is a young-adult contemporary novel about seventeen-year-old Rukhsana, a Muslim Bangladeshi lesbian who has dreams of escaping her situation by attending a college far away with her girlfriend, Arianna, until her parents find out about their relationship and whisk her away to Bangladesh to instill their homophobic beliefs on her.

This book is phenomenal in Every. Single. Way.

I am not going to lie to you. It is not an easy read. It is an unbelievably difficult read. It deals with heavy themes, but it deals with necessary themes. It is heartbreakingly honest and real, and despite all of the heartarche, it does lead to a good outcome. (I feel that some queer readers would like to know this novel has a happy ending because many novels dealing with this thematic content do not.)

Rukhsana was just a phenomenal narrator. She is a mature young woman with her happy ending in sight, and that is all stolen from her by the two people who are supposed to love her most. She is comfortable in her own sexuality as a lesbian, but understands the danger she is in as a lesbian in her community; she is proud of her culture and heritage, but is willing to call out the issues (esp. sexism and homophobia) that exist within it; she is ready to experience her happy ending.

But in spite of the phenomenal narrator, this novel is heartwrenchingly cruel at times. Rukhsana's friends and girlfriend struggle to understand her culture, while her parents refuse to accept her sexuality. Rukhsana struggles to find anyone in her life that truly gets it.

But she also finds support at times.

And that is something that it so well-expressed in this novel:

Not all people from one culture/religion are the same. Not all South Asians are homophobic. Not all American are accepting of queerness.

Rukhsana's journey is unflinchingly honest and it is the reality for far too many people. I've read books where a queer main character is not accepted (to say the least) by their loved ones, but I've never read this in the experience of a brown queer main character.

I don't want to give any spoilers for this phenomenal piece of art. I do want to warn you all that it is a heavy and intense read, but if you can handle it, I highly urge you to pick it up.

Khan is an exquisitely talented writer who released a provoking and relevant debut that will change the world of so many queer brown teens.
Profile Image for Iris.
549 reviews253 followers
August 31, 2020
3.5 stars

Wow. This book was spectacular. And okay, so maybe the ending was a teeny tiny bit unrealistic, but also I don't care. The ending was perfect. edit: I take that back the ending was annoyingly unrealistic
Profile Image for emma.
152 reviews569 followers
June 13, 2019
hello i just finished this and i’m crying in the library on my lunch break.

(i also just wanna include a warning that while this is a truly powerful book that ends on an affirming note, please take care as it does address homophobia, death, rape, racism, islamophobia, abuse, and incest.)
Profile Image for ✨.
137 reviews
September 3, 2018

i don't think i have the emotional capacity to write an in-depth review for this book. this book hit incredibly close to home as a bangladeshi sapphic. i honestly spent a majority of the book crying and wishing that i could spare rukhsana from what was happening to her. at several points, i had to set the book down because my tears were staining the pages. however, this book is incredibly important and really dives in deep in regards to what it's like to be LGBTQ+ when you're in a non-western conservative household. please pick this book up when it comes out in january, because there's so much to take away from it.

this book isn't even out and yet i'm already crying??? a story about a bengali sapphic who gets shipped off to bangladesh after her parents find out? bro this is a Lot
Profile Image for Jou.
68 reviews35 followers
February 18, 2019

Just a little warning: this books has some graphic rape, abuse, pedophilia as well as some Extreme homophobia. Be warned if you choose to read.

ngl i dived in with high hopes but low expectations into this as a bangladeshi bi idiot. Rukhsana. u broke my heart.

lets talk abt the good first: the characters in the story were flat but still likeable if u try hard enough (i did). the conflicts, as exaggerated as it might seem at times, in this story is actually very true to reality. what rukhsana faces is very real for us bengali girls. what happens to her mother and nani is also a tragically common story. sohail's fate is so close to reality that i felt like i was punched in the face. the food and our culture is also represented well. and the good part of the family dynamic was also very true to bengali families. what i mean is that is the Representation was just MmmhHHMM Great.

although, i feel like this story does not provide enough cultural context for non-bengali or readers who are not already familiar with some aspects of our culture? also the bad is definitely highlighted and the good takes a sort of backseat.

But where this book really lets me down is in plot and language. The language is really simplistic and some of the dialogues sound mechanical and fake. i felt like someone just put Bengali sentences into a more superior version of google translate. as a result, the emotion in the story was lacking. Rukhsana's emotions, the helplessness, the despair, the fear, one would feel in her situation is muted.

the plot was a mess too. the pacing was wacky and there were SO MANY cop outs. i mean the resolution at the ending??? u g h please.

overall, more than a little disappointed but i am very glad to see some representation for the bangladeshi lgbt+ teens
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,211 followers
January 8, 2019
Rukhsana has been in a relationship with her girlfriend Ariana for a few months and things are going well. Between them, anyway. Rukhsana hasn't been able to share the excitement of this relationship with many people, though: she's Bengali, and her parents are quite conservative, so she knows her being a lesbian would potentially cause her parents to disown her. But when she and Ariana are caught kissing, things go from potentially scary to downright terrifying.

Almost immediately, Rukhsana's parents tell her that her grandmother in Bangladesh is gravely ill and they need to fly there to spend time with her immediately. But it's all a ruse. It's an opportunity for her parents to find her a suitable husband and marry her off, lest the truth about her sexuality get out and embarrass her parents' good name among the Bengali community in Seattle.

Rukhsana and Ariana's relationship is severely tested here, in part because Ariana can't understand the reality of Rukhsana's family life. It's also in part due to Rukhsana not making the leaps she keeps trying to make -- but not necessarily because she doesn't want to. She's hindered again and again.

Until she devises a plan with a gay man she's met through her parents. The opportunity presents itself and they leap.

This is a moving book about identity and more specifically, about being at the intersection of many marginalized identities. Rukhsana's story is about being queer and being Bengali and having strict family beliefs and rules. It's through her grandmother -- the one her parents pretend is sick -- that she learns that her determination to live her life for herself, how she wants to live it, runs in the family and that her mother's beliefs and actions are due in part .

Though the writing is at times repetitive (something, weirdly, Rukhsana herself notes in-text) and not especially polished, the story is excellent and immersive. The settings are lush, filled with sights, sounds, and smells of Bengali culture. Nothing here is written down for the white reader, which is exceptionally refreshing, and more, the characters here are so hard not to root for. Even Rukhsana's mother, who is cast initially as a villain, becomes utterly sympathetic as we unravel her complicated history alongside Rukhsana.

Pair with Written in the Stars, especially for readers wanting a look at the still-practiced tradition of arranged marriages across cultures. This would also make for an excellent read alike to Sara Farizan's If You Could Be Mine or Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel.

I can't wait to read more from Khan.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,125 reviews817 followers
October 22, 2021
Rep: Bangladeshi Muslim lesbian mc

CWs: verbal and physical homophobic abuse, rape, sexual assault towards women and girls, domestic abuse, racism and colourism

dnf @ p30

this book isn't for me in both senses of that phrase. mostly i didn't like the writing, but ever since i found out abt That Particular Plotpoint i've been reluctant to read it because, honestly, i'm just tired of reading straight authors writing gay pain. ultimately what decided me on just not finishing it (besides the writing, and the point where rukhsana's gf is annoyed that she won't tell her parents abt her, which is honestly, such a straight take) is that that gay pain apparently isn't even treated very well.

but, like i said, it's not for me. i knew going in i might not like it. but there's also plenty of good abt this book and if you want to know more abt that (and the bad more in depth), then read rushda's review
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,414 reviews392 followers
May 26, 2019
Trigger Warning: Homophobia, Child Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Murder, Colorism, Islamophobia

Rukhsana has toed the line under her conservative Muslim parents' rule. But in just a couple short months she'll be 18 and living her dream life at Caltech, studying astrophysics and free to openly date her girlfriend. But when her mother catches them kissing, Rukhsana is whisked away to Bangladesh, where she is faced with conservative views and an arranged marriage. Can she escape? And can she find a solution where she keeps her love and her family?

Holyyyyyyyy shiiiiiiiiiit this book.

I don't even know where to begin other than to say: readitreaditreaditreaditreadit

This is not a light and fluffy YA read. Please heed those trigger warnings.

However, this is such an amazing book that captures the way so many things interact—close-mindedness vs open-mindedness, homophobia, acceptance, the intersection of very different cultures, and the importance of family (and food). There is so much nuance to Rukhsana's family, and knowing that their actions came from a place of love (and fear of outside recrimination/shaming) made what they did so much harder to read.

Rukhsana was absolutely amazing, and I really, really loved so many of the other secondary characters as well—particularly Nani, Shaila, Irfan, Sara, Aamir and sweet Sohail.

One of the book's biggest messages is that you can't condemn an entire culture of the actions of one family, but have to consider the circumstances individually and know that there are layers and layers to a person's motivations and decisions.

My least favorite character in this whole book?


Rukhsana went through so much shit, and all Ariana could think about was herself and her own feelings, and how it was so hard for her that Rukhsana couldn't be open about her sexuality and relationship to a white lesbian in front of her very conservative parents and family. Like girl, seriously. Listen to your girlfriend and get your head out of your ass.

Overall, this was so fucking good, even if my review probably makes it sound absolutely awful. The ending is so good and so heartwarming and omg my shriveled heart grew like three sizes at least.

But don't read my review. Check out Fadwa's Review, which is much more eloquent and put together than anything I could possibly say.
Profile Image for Tova.
632 reviews
August 15, 2019
HOLY VAHIYATA. All I can currently say is that Fawad Khan is a dream, and this made me feel a lot of things. Full review available on my blog!

This might be my most anticipated release of 2019. Like it sounds like an LGBT version of my favorite book of 2017 Written in the Stars set partially in Seattle (which I'm excited about because my brother and best friend live there and I live close to there) and Bangladesh. I'm hyped.
Profile Image for Tan.
54 reviews
April 2, 2020
[EDIT] I felt a bit mean because I think my review was a little harshly worded (content stands). Despite really not liking the book, I’m glad it is published and out there; more diverse voices in literature will always be a good thing.

Quite terrible.

I wanted to like this. I wasn’t expecting to completely ‘get’ everything that Rukhsana is going through but I thought there would be something - anything - that I might be able to connect with in this book, as a Bangladeshi British girl who has struggled, like so many others, to find meaning and identity while navigating very different cultures. Sadly, that was not to be.

Sabina Khan appears to have only the most basic understanding of human nature, let alone what its like to be a gay Bangladeshi American teen. Her characters are barely developed, and either dull and repetitive or undergoing complete personality changes without much explanation. The writing is sloppy, and does no justice to the subject matter. What should be a nuanced, and complex journey for Rukhsana and her loved ones is an actual farce, relying on hyperbole and utterly - frankly unbelievable - plot twists. The book just feels completely inauthentic and doesn’t do any of the hard work of actually trying to understand why people behave in the way they do.

I could do a page by page here but that would be too petty, even for me. A few points though that really, really irritated me:
- why are most of the Bangladeshi women in the book portrayed as shrill / vapid / having evil intent? It’s such an unfair portrayal and frankly, insulting
- why is Ariana so annoying? Literally every other page I was like, sis is this worth it? Joke joke (eye roll)
- Why does Rukhsana, as a hip young 17 yo have the music and film tastes of a middle aged south Asian woman (Dhoom, I ask you?!)...I think we all know the answer to this one
- No Nanu on earth would screw over their daughter in the way Nani did - that woman is a witch. Literally you’re cool with your daughter, a victim of abuse, being publicly humiliated and are ok to do absolutely nothing about it? Or even talk to her? Also, I know a couple of Nanus in Dhaka - I have never met a single one like the Nani in this book
- finally, the diary. The laziest plot tool ever, and seems to be suggesting that Rukhsana’s mother’s behaviour is excused by others, and should be forgiven, because she was sexually abused. The sexual abuse is used purely as a plot tool and never explored; it’s a means to an end. Pretty disrespectful when you consider how prevalent sexual violence is against women in Bangladesh. Anyhoo...my point is, plenty of people in Bangladesh are homophobic. Plenty of my family are; do I disagree? Sure. Does it mean they are terrible people or have all had terrible life experiences? No. This book completely fails to account for the differences in culture, information, religion, exposure, thinking which have created such a gulf between generations - note, I don’t restrict that to Bangladesh.

Overall, I do think Sabina Khan had a benevolent motive in her book; to start a conversation about homophobia in the Bangladeshi community. I don’t think this book helps or really does the difficult work of getting into some thorny issues. Instead it’s a fairy tale, relying on fairy godmothers and villains to carry some pretty poor writing. Would not recommend.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
979 reviews498 followers
February 10, 2020
A young adult version of a woman is no man that hits just as hard. With a my god I wish everyone got that happy ending ending.

We follow our protagonist Rukhsana as she navigates being queer and being Muslim in America. After a while, she is outed of not her own volition. From this we follow Rukhsana as she reclaims her identity as Bangladeshi, Muslim and queer in a modern world.

This book was moving, a little cheesy at times and with hard hitting moments that I was not expecting.
Profile Image for anya.
123 reviews51 followers
June 23, 2019
4.25 stars
-Rukhsana lives her life in two parts: her school life, and her home life. At school, she has friends, goes to parties, and is planning to move to California with her girlfriend as soon as her senior year is over to go to college. At home, however, her parents know none of that. Rukhsana knows that they wouldn't approve of her leaving for college, and she can't even begin to imagine what would happen if they found out that she was lesbian. And though she tries so hard to keep these two parts of her life separate, it's sometimes just not possible. When her mom walks in on Rukhsana and her girlfriend, Ariana, everything that she has ever worked for in school is suddenly endangered as she is whisked off to Bangladesh in search of a suitable husband. Trapped, she is forced to confront her own assumptions as she meets allies and enemies alike and searches for a way out of this life that her parents created for her and back into her own.
The Good:
-This book is a roller coaster ride of emotions. There are parts when you want to reach into the pages and give Rukhsana or her friends a giant hug, parts when you almost laugh out loud (to the bafflement of anyone sitting near you), and parts where you just want to lay back and cry- all bundled into one amazing book. After reading this book, you will end up in a different place than when you started.
-Rukhsana's character development. Over the course of her stay in Bangladesh, Rukhsana learns so much about herself, and what she deserves, and the freedoms that no one, not even her parents, should be allowed to take away from her. It is through this character development that the message of the book is conveyed: live your life for yourself, not for someone else's pride or as someone's prize. Who you love does not make you less valuable, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
The Not-So-Good:
-The one problem that I had with this book was the writing style: occasionally, the dialogue could get rather clunky or the narrative disjointed, but it was not enough to ruin the way that the whole book read.
-Ok I lied I had one more problem. I really would have liked to at least get to meet Mushtaq in person. That whole narrative seemed rather open-ended in a way that it maybe shouldn't have been, so a bit more closure would have been nice.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. If you are looking for a book that delves deeply into the ideas of identity and belief, or a book with a gripping storyline and a wide cast of fleshed-out characters, then this is the perfect book for you!
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