'The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali' By Sabina Khan Is A Coming-Of-Age Story That Will Break Your Heart In The Best Way
No matter how old you get, it isn't that hard to remember what it felt like being a teenage. Not quite a child, nor exactly an adult, it's an awkward, complicated, and often painful period where your caught between who your family expects you to be, and who you want to become. It's an incredibly relatable experience, and it's one at the heart of Sabina Khan's The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali. A powerful story about identity, family, love, and growing up, this must-read young adult novel doesn't arrive in bookstores until next year, but Bustle is excited to share the exclusive cover reveal and a chapter excerpt below.
Out Jan. 29, 2019 from Scholastic Press, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali tells the story the book's titular character, a 17-year-old girl struggling to balance the expectations of her conservative Muslim parents and the new life she dreams of experiencing. If she can just hold out another few months, Rukhsana will be out of her familial home and away from her parents' ever-watchful eyes at Caltech, a place where she thinks she can finally be herself. But when she is caught kissing her girlfriend Ariana, her devastated parents take Rukhsana to Bangladesh, where everything she had been planning is out of reach.
There, immersed in a world of tradition and arranged marriages, Rukhsana finds the perspective she's been looking for in her grandmother's old diary. The only question left for her to answer is: Can she fight for the woman she loves without losing her family in the process?
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a timely and honest coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between identity, culture, family, and love. Although you have to wait until Jan. 2019 to get your hands on this anticipated release, Bustle is thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt from The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali along with its stunning cover. See it all, below:
No parties, no shorts, no boys. These were my parents’ three cardinal rules. But what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them, right? I quickly changed out of my NASA pajamas and into my favorite black crop top and dark-blue vintage jeans, liking the way they accentuated my curves. According to Mom no one needed to know that I had boobs, much less a belly button, except for me, Allah, and my future husband. Of course, the whole “no boys” rule was a moot point in my case, but fortunately my parents didn’t know about Ariana.
“Rukhsana, Mom’s never going to let you out of the house wearing that.”
Startled, I spun around to see my brother, Aamir, leaning lazily against my door frame.
“Knock much?” I said, quickly pausing the music playing on my phone.
“I did. It’s not my fault you couldn’t hear me over that screeching you call music.” Aamir smiled as he sauntered into the room and plopped down on my bed.
Of course, my brother was right. I would never be allowed to go out wearing this. Which was why I was planning to throw on my oversized school hoodie to once again become the shapeless blob my parents preferred to think of me as.
“Aamir, you know this isn’t my first rodeo.” I ruffled his hair affectionately. “Plus, you always have my back, right?”
"Of course, my brother was right. I would never be allowed to go out wearing this."
“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I’ll cover for you,” Aamir said, pushing away my hand. He was very particular about his hair. “But it’s going to cost you,” he added with a grin.
“What do you want this time?” I pulled the bulky hoodie over my head.
“Something good. I haven’t thought about it yet.” He surveyed my outfit. “Ariana’s going to run away when she sees you, but at least Mom will be happy.”
I punched him playfully in the arm before going downstairs. The smell of chai led me into the kitchen, where I found the pot bubbling on the stovetop. I inhaled its spicy aroma deeply, allowing the cinnamon and cardamom to soothe my nerves. It was almost five o’clock, time to head over to Jen’s house to finish getting ready for the party. But first I had to convince Mom to let me go.
She walked out of the study having just finished her Asr prayer, absentmindedly rolling up her prayer rug.
She wore a faded blue shalwar kameez, one of the few old ones she kept for when she cooked. Other than the few grey strands escaping the black bun at the nape of her neck, she looked much younger than her forty-five years.
I took a long sip of my tea before placing the cup on the kitchen counter. “Mom, don’t forget, I’m going to Jen’s house soon.”
She removed her head scarf and draped it over the back of a chair.
“Again?” she asked, deepening the worry lines on her forehead. “Why, Rukhsana? You just went the other day.” She picked up the pot and poured herself a cup of chai, taking a careful sip before returning her gaze to me.
“Mom, I told you,” I said with a deep sigh. “We have a project due on Monday and tonight is the only night we’re both free to work on it.” I waited, a familiar knot forming in my stomach. I hated how I felt right now, like a child asking for just one more cookie. I could almost see the wheels turning in her head as she decided my fate for the evening.
“Again?” she asked, deepening the worry lines on her forehead. “Why, Rukhsana? You just went the other day.”
“I need your help with dinner first. I’m making murgir jhol and your dad will be home soon. You can make the roti and then go.” That was that. She turned away to pick out jars of spices from the rack and lined them up neatly on the counter next to the stove.
Great. Now I was going to show up to the party smelling of fried onions and garlic. Just what I needed.
My phone pinged.
Rukhsana!! Get your butt over here!
It was Jen. I knew she’d freak out if I was late.
I darted a glance at Mom. She was busy chopping onions, her face stoic, as if not even the onions could make her cry. I don’t know how she did it.
I need another hour. Couldn’t get out of kitchen duty.
I pressed the mute button and shoved the phone back in my pocket with a groan.
“Mom, can’t you get Aamir to help out tonight? I really need to go. Jen’s waiting for me.”
Mom laughed as she ground some coriander in the mortar with a pestle. “Don’t be silly. Aamir has homework, and you know very well that you need to learn how to prepare these dishes by yourself. When you’re married, who will come and cook for you?”
As if on cue, Aamir strolled into the kitchen and Mom’s face lit up. Typical. Mom could be such a cliché sometimes. Of course, she doted on my brother, but me? I had to learn how to cook so I could impress a potential mother-in-law. Deep breath. I had bigger problems at the moment. Like, how was I going to get out of here, go to Jen’s house to put my makeup on for the party, and make it back home by curfew? All without making my parents suspicious.
Aamir sauntered to the dining table and plopped himself into a chair. “What’s for dinner?”
“Murgir jhol, baba. Your favorite.” Mom stirred the spices in the pot. Wisps of coriander, cumin, and cloves wafted around the copper pots that hung on a hook near the stove before settling into my hair and clothes. I recalculated in my head the time I would now need to get ready. Shampooing, drying, and straightening my absurdly curly, long hair added at least another hour to my departure time.
"Of course, she doted on my brother, but me? I had to learn how to cook so I could impress a potential mother-in-law. Deep breath. I had bigger problems at the moment."
Jen was going to kill me.
With a resigned sigh, I gathered my thick hair into a knot, securing it at the nape of my neck with an elastic band from my wrist. I measured out two parts flour to one part water into a large mixing bowl for the roti, casting angry glances at my mother as she kept one eye on the pot.
At least kneading the dough for the flatbread was cheaper than therapy.
“Mom, I don’t really have that much homework to do. I can help out,” Aamir said, unfolding his lanky frame from the chair.
“No, no, abbu, you go and relax,” Mom said. “Rukhsana will help.” I glared furiously at my mother. If I had a dollar for every time I’d been treated like Cinderella in this house, I’d be as rich as Prince Charming by now. Thankfully, I only had to endure this for a few more months. Then I was out of here.
“Mom, this is ridiculous. He said he wants to help. I really need to go and work on my project with Jen.”
Mom waved a dismissive hand. “Aamir is a growing boy.” She returned her attention to the simmering murgir jhol on the stove. “He needs to rest so that he can study properly.”
Aamir picked up the rolling pin, holding it awkwardly, which was not surprising as he’d never used one before.
“Mom, I can—”
“I said, go upstairs, Aamir.” Mom’s tone did not invite argument and my brother slowly backed away from the kitchen counter, mouthing a sorry to me before he disappeared up the stairs.
I sighed deeply.
“I’m graduating this year, Mom. I think my grades are just as important as Aamir’s, even though you don’t seem to think so.” I pounded the ball of dough relentlessly into the counter. “I don’t understand why you always do this.”
“Rukhsana, I’ve told you before. Daughters and sons are not the same. You have the power to honor our family’s good reputation. But if you’re not careful you could also be the one to stain it. And it is my job to make sure that does not happen.” Mom reduced the heat on the stovetop and readied a pan for the roti.
I wondered what she would do if I let out the scream that was building inside of me. I took several long, deep breaths and recited the mantra I’d been living by lately:
Just hold on for a little bit longer.
Having an outburst would be counterproductive at this point. If I antagonized her, I’d never be able to leave the house tonight. I swallowed the lump in my throat and began to roll out the flatbread, allowing the simple, repetitive act to erase my frustration. Soon enough, a layer of perfectly round rotis covered the plate.
“You’re getting much better.” Mom grabbed the plate, nodding in approval before tossing one into the pan to cook.
"Having an outburst would be counterproductive at this point. If I antagonized her, I’d never be able to leave the house tonight."
I held out another plate with the last batch. “Can I go now?”
“You have to eat first, no?” she said, expertly flipping the roti on the pan just as it puffed up.
“I’ll just grab something at Jen’s.”
Mom scooped some rice pudding into a bowl. “Here.” She handed me the bowl. “Take this up to Aamir. No need for him to come down when he’s working so hard. I’ll call him when Daddy gets home.”
I took the bowl from her with one last glare and trudged out of the kitchen. Upstairs, I set the food down on the desk in front of Aamir.
“Here. Mom sent this up for you. She didn’t want to bother you when you’re working so hard.”
Aamir looked up from his book. “I’m sorry, Rukhsana. I did try to help,” he said. “Mom can be so ridiculous sometimes.” He stood and walked over to me.
“Here, you can have some of my rice pudding.” He held out a spoonful, just like he used to when we were little and I wouldn’t finish my food. Even though he was two years younger, most of the time he acted like a protective older brother. I couldn’t help smiling at him as I ate the pudding. He always knew how to make me feel better.
I washed my hair twice in an attempt to replace the smell of the spices with vanilla and jasmine. After straightening my hair, I pulled out a clean black top from my closet. I never understood why people were always telling me to wear lighter colors. Even though I knew they popped against my brown skin, I was way too comfortable in my dark clothes. I did go all out in bright colors for Bengali functions though, because even I wasn’t immune to the glamor of desi fashion.
I loaded a backpack with my black strappy heels, makeup, and body spray, pulling on a different oversized hoodie and throwing my hair into a messy ponytail. Before heading downstairs, I shoved my cosmic spiral earrings into my jeans pocket.
“Bye, Mom, I’m leaving,” I called out.
I didn’t wait for her answer as I stepped into the cool Seattle evening. Jen lived just a couple of streets down, so I could walk there in less than five minutes. I felt a tiny pinch of guilt about lying to Mom. If it were up to her I’d never step out of the house. My mother had missed the memo that this was the twenty-first century and I was a senior in high school.
I heard the squeals as soon as I got to Jen’s front door.
I had to knock loudly a few times before she opened it, her blue eyes sparkling. “’Bout time,” she teased.
“Tell me about it,” I said as I entered. “Is that Rachel screaming?”
Jen nodded. “Cody’s on the phone. He says he’s coming to the party.”
“Is Ariana here already?” I slipped off my sneakers and placed them against the wall.
“She just got here. Everyone’s upstairs.”
Jen’s room looked like the aftermath of a tornado. Clothes strewn about on the bed, shoes scattered on the floor, and the top of her dresser was a veritable crime scene. When I took off my hoodie, Rachel whistled at me.
“Does your mom know what you’re wearing, young lady?” she asked with mock sternness.
“Are you kidding?” I grinned back at her. “If it were up to her I’d be wearing a burqa whenever I go out.”
“But then I wouldn’t be able to see your beautiful face,” Ariana said as she exited Jen’s bathroom.
She was breathtaking, wearing a short blue dress that matched the color of her eyes. We’d been together for six months now, but every time I saw her I still got butterflies. I walked over and kissed her softly on the lips.
“Gross. Get a room, you two,” Rachel said with a grin.
“Preferably not mine.” Jen rolled her eyes.
“You guys are just jealous because I have the hottest date for the party,” I said, making a face at both of them.
"We’d been together for six months now, but every time I saw her I still got butterflies."
“No, Rukhsana,” Ariana said overdramatically, her hands on her heart. “I have the hottest date to the party.” And with that she spun me around into a complicated dip and I promptly fell out of her arms and onto a pile of Jen’s laundry on the floor causing everyone to burst out laughing.
Rachel composed herself first. “Ariana, I think you’ve been watching too many Bollywood movies with Rukhsana.”
“Just practicing my moves for the dance, you know,” Ariana said, her eyes full of laughter. “Gotta keep up with this one, right?” she said gesturing to me.
“Well, make sure you keep practicing,” Jen said. “And now that it’s officially settled that you guys are the cutest couple, can we go? We’re already late, thanks to Miss I-Couldn’t-Get-Out-Of-Kitchen-Duty here.” She grinned at me and Ariana affectionately as we filed out of her room.
“Have your parents said anything more about letting you drive?” Rachel asked as the car stopped at a red light. Rachel, Jen, and I had been friends since elementary school, so they knew all about my usual family arguments.
“I’m pretty sure my brother will have his license before I do,” I said bitterly. “According to my parents, I don’t really need to drive since they can take me everywhere I need to go.”
“Rukhsana, just remember, before long you and I will be out of here and living it up in sunny California,” Ariana said, just as Jen turned onto Caitlin’s street.
“Only if I tell my parents that I applied to Caltech. I’m not looking forward to that conversation.” Jen’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and I grimaced.
“Rukhsana, you’ve only been talking about being a physicist since forever,” Jen said, her eyes back on the road. “You have to tell them.”
Ariana put her arm around me and squeezed gently.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a grin. “We’ll make a Plan B just in case.”
The party was in full swing when we arrived, and Jen and Rachel immediately went off in search of Cody. The patterned bass of some dubstep remix reverberated in my chest as Ariana laced her fingers with mine. We were consumed by the music, and Ariana pulled me into her arms.
“Dance with me,” she said.
As we swayed with the rhythm, the rest of the world fell away. She nuzzled my ear and kissed my neck, and my body tingled from head to toe. I had no idea how long we danced together like that or when one song ended and a new one began. All I knew was, this moment in time, this place right here? Pure heaven.
“Wanna get something to drink?” Ariana yelled over the din of the music.
I nodded and we began to make our way to the kitchen, weaving through the thrashing sea of bodies. Jen poured me a glass of toxic pink punch.
I sniffed it suspiciously. It was definitely spiked. “What’s in it?”
“Vodka and pink lemonade, I think.”
“No, thanks. My parents would kill me, and likely all of you, if I came home smelling like alcohol,” I said, handing it back to her. She offered it to Ariana, who accepted it with a grateful smile.
Just then Rachel walked into the kitchen, her face slightly flushed and her usually perfect hair a little tousled.
“Umm, guys, you’re not going to believe what just happened,” she said, grabbing the cup Jen was holding out to her.
“I think we have a pretty good idea, Rachel,” I said, grinning at her as I reached over to smooth down her hair.
“Well?” Ariana said. “Are you going to tell us?”
While Rachel gushed about Cody and his make-out skills, I stole a glance at my watch.
Crap. How did it get so late?
If Mom or Dad decided to walk over to Jen’s and check up on me, like they did sometimes, I was dead.
“Jen,” I said, panic tightening my throat. “I have to get home. Could you drive me, please?”
“Already?” Jen’s voice had taken on a whiny tone. I drew a deep breath.
“C’mon, you know what my parents are like. If they find out I’m at a party, I can kiss Caltech goodbye.”
“Fine.” Jen grabbed her car keys out of her purse and handed them to me. “Just let me go tell Caitlin that I’ll be back after I drop you off.”
“Okay, I’m going to go change really quick before we head out.” I went outside and grabbed my backpack from the back seat of Jen’s car before going back in to find the bathroom. I scrubbed my face until there was no trace of my fierce dark red lipstick and black eyeliner. I sniffed my top as I pulled it off. It reeked of cheap beer. Someone must have spilled some on me while I danced. I’d have to leave it with Jen. I put on my hoodie and tied my hair back up in a ponytail, hoping Mom wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t in its usual state of uncontrollable frizz. I doused myself in jasmine body spray just in case. Hopefully she’d be half-asleep when I got back and wouldn’t pay attention. Ariana was waiting for me by the front door when I was done reverting back to my mother-approved self. She had that look she got every time I bailed on my friends to make it home before curfew. I quickly kissed her, said my goodbyes, and walked out before the guilt pulled me back in.
It was just after eleven, way past my ten thirty curfew, by the time Jen pulled into my driveway.
I entered as quietly as I could but wasn’t surprised to see Mom waiting up for me in her favorite recliner in the family room.
“Good, you’re back. I was about to wake up Daddy to go over to Jennifer’s house and bring you home.” She stood and stretched. “Are you hungry? There’s still rice pudding left. I saved you some before Aamir finished it all.”
I shook my head. “I ate at Jen’s house. But don’t let Aamir eat the pudding. I’ll eat it tomorrow.”
"I entered as quietly as I could but wasn’t surprised to see Mom waiting up for me in her favorite recliner in the family room."
She smiled indulgently as she tucked my hair behind my ears. “You look tired. Look at those dark circles.” She kissed my forehead and I prayed she wouldn’t smell any beer on me. I held my breath, relaxing only after she stepped away.
“I’m going to go to sleep now. Good night, Mom,” I said as I walked up the stairs.
“Good night, ammu.”
My heart hammered in my chest as I unpacked my backpack, stashing my heels in the back of the closet and returning my makeup to the bathroom. I hid the forbidden red lipstick in my junk drawer, making sure it was impossible to find in all the other clutter.