I Am Thunder is a teen/ya book I received from NetGalley last year. I am trying to reduce the number of ARCs I take, but there are so many temptations that come my way it’s hard to resist. At one stage I wished I had resisted I Am Thunder, because rather than being unable to put it down, I rather wished I could stop before it got… well, see the review!
I Am Thunder
“Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there’s prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.
But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice – keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?
A stunning new YA voice which questions how far you’ll go to protect what you believe in.” [Goodreads, their quote marks]
This is a thoroughly believable novel, or rather thriller, or maybe it’s suspense, about contemporary life in London. Since the author is/was a contemporary London schoolteacher (secondary i.e. ages 11-16), I can well believe the sorts of things that go on, even if it seems a far cry from my experience of school in London. That’s what fifty years does for you.
Muzna is an engaging character, full of the normal doubts and fears about her place in society – especially the classroom – with the added confusion of a strict, potentially sheltered upbringing by parents who wish to engage their Britishness while not upsetting their tight-knit Muslim community. Thinking of how stressful those teen hormone years are anyway, it’s a wonder Muzna, and others like her, don’t explode under the pressure of all this contradictory conformism. The writing comes across as a sensitive study from one who has seen this pressure on kids, over and over again. Yet it does not inhibit a freshness of language (my editor would have a fit), and some amazingly descriptive pieces that launch the wired world into your face. “Picturing a Wall of Calm, I imagined sticking my head in it” was the only quote I highlighted, but there were plenty of paragraphs that deserved cherishing.
I feared where this was all heading. On the one hand, I feared it descending into a Reluctant Fundamentalist clone for YA, another revelation of how the West forces reasonable people into corners until all they can do is fight back. I also feared for the relationships between the teens, and especially Muzna’s blindness to what was obvious to everyone else. But that was only too real. Jane Austen would have recognised the syndrome.
The big build was slow, detailed and full of cultural confusion. The climax was horrific, horrendous, and brilliantly developed. The finale was carefully wrought, and sensibly unsensational. It’s a brilliant book. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars was because I was, for two considerable periods of time, afraid to go back to it. Maybe it’s me who’s the reluctant fundamentalist.
I should give it the extra star it deserves (I now have). It’s not to everyone’s taste, full of teen angst, and a lesson to adults in both what grooming is and the cack-handed way we’re addressing it. But actually, everyone should read it.