About this book: In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia’s life collides with that of another young woman. A young Christian American mother, Mia finds more than one dark secret on the streets of Khartoum. She finds Halimah, a young, upper-class Arab student with a bright future in her family’s business whose risky and secretive decision has put her life in danger. What happens when the path of young mother intersects with that of a spunky Sudanese student? God transforms them both . . .forever.
About the author: Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend college. She and her husband married a month after she graduated and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. Together with her husband and three boys, Jana enjoys travel and overseas living. After thirteen years in Africa and the Middle East, Jana and her family moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary missional
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Why I read this book: Because I wanted to learn more about what it’s like to live in an Islamic country.
Content advisories: Honest but not graphic discussion of FGM (female genital mutilation). Depictions of domestic violence. Profanity-free.
Reminds me of… Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McChord
Will especially appeal to… socially conscious and mission-minded women
This story matters because… of the compassionate way it demystifies the Muslim lifestyle and encourages authentic relationships.
My take: What I want to say first, and what I’d like most remembered, is that this is a book worth reading. Side by Side is, more than most, a novel of timeliness and relevance for today’s American Christian. Because, despite its increasing dominance in current events, the Islam religion remains veiled in mystery for most of us. Yet more and more, we are discovering Muslims as our neighbors, both in the U.S. and abroad. And this, coupled with the rise of Christian persecution worldwide, leads me to conclude that we have a responsibility, now more than ever, to educate ourselves on the Muslim faith and lifestyle.
For these reasons and more, I found Side by Side a fascinating novel, supplying a wealth of information, a myriad of details–particularly as to how Islam is experienced by both Muslim and non-Muslim women. Of course dozens such books cover these topics in non-fiction form. Novels are rarer (though I see this changing).
This story follows the lives of two young women: Mia, an idealistic American, who, with her husband and three children, has moved to Sudan; and Halimah, an intelligent teen from a devout, upper-middle class, Muslim family. For most of the novel, we follow their separate stories until they finally converge for the last bit. While the story itself is fascinating, many of the characters and conversations tend to be simplistic and one-dimensional. Mia was particularly difficult to relate to and sympathize with. I found Halimah’s character the more believable, and enjoyable, of the two.
Overall, however, it was an easy read, one that I finished it in just a few days. It struck me as a book geared for a younger audience, and for this reason I envision it as a great book for mothers and daughters (13 and up) to read together as the basis for some eye-opening conversation. It would also be a great add for any church library.
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Thanks to New Hope Publishers and Litfuse Publicity for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: I’ve been learning much more about Islam these days, often second-hand as my husband has been educating himself on the subject. In general, he prefers to glean his information from non-fiction sources. On the whole, I prefer fiction, finding that I retain more when it’s encapsulated within story. How about you?