When one of Mariam’s best friends, Ghaz, needs to get away from her strictly conservative family for a while, Mariam, Ghaz, and their other best friend Umar go on a roadtrip to New Orleans. But all three have weighty problems they are dealing with in their very different ways, and a road trip is always about more than just the driving.
To be honest, I don’t think I’d even heard of Mariam Sharma Hits the Road before Jenny reviewed it, so me reading it is definitely down to her! (As is often the case.) But I had kind of forgotten the exact details of the plot summary before I actually got around to reading it.
This meant that what I initially believed was a fun, light road trip YA turned out to be overall more serious in tone, although there are some fun and funny moments. This isn’t a bad thing! I just had to adjust my expectations a bit.
The heart of the book is really the friendship between Mariam, Ghaz, and Umar, which I really loved reading about. A lot of times friendships in YA are called into question, even if they ultimately survive. But here, the relationship between the three is never really in doubt, even when they disagree or hurt each other’s feelings.
I also loved the fact that they got to be very different without being type-cast. They’re never reduced to “the religious one” or “the rebel” or “the prim one” even if that could be accurately said about them. We see their similarities clearly enough that the reasons for their friendship are clear, but Karim also allows them to be dissimilar in a lot of ways that allows a lot of interesting tension and differing viewpoints. There’s no one right way to been a teenager, or particularly a Muslim teenager.
For instance, when it comes to sexuality, Umar is allowed to be a romantic, Ghaz is allowed to be flirtatious and sexually active, and Mariam is allowed to just not really be into it. The different facets of who they are often provide contradictions within themselves, but the narrative doesn’t say that any one of them is the only way to be. It’s a very careful way to show all three friends, and it works to break down stereotypes and preconceptions
This same care is shown throughout the book, whenever it comes to a group or identity. We see the South through the eyes of kids who don’t live there, who experiences the effects of the casual and pervasive racism and xenophobia that several characters exhibit. But the story challenges who the reader (and Mariam) assumes will be the prejudiced ones, and no one is reduced to a cliche.
These moments of racism were probably the hardest to read; in combination with the fact that all three friends are dealing with difficult family situations and their place in the world, this strand makes the story more than a light road trip book. But by the end I felt that Karim is using this standard YA trope to undermine expectations and tell a story that’s at once challenging and hopeful. I loved all three main characters and appreciated the care with which their stories were told.
Previously, on By Singing Light: