Bookgab: I am Thunder by Muhammad Khan

by - February 23, 2018

I just finished reading the beautifully gripping story told by Muhammad Khan, I am Thunder. Muzna’s story is one that will stay with me far longer than most, I can already tell. It was clear from the very beginning that this would be a different story. Muzna leapt off the page from Chapter 1 and so did all the other characters. I could see Salma and Muzna in the shopping mall trying to bleach the dark upper lip mustache that she was so selfconscious about and I felt like I was thirteen again, there with them trying to help out a friend. I picked up this book thinking that I would love it because Muzna aspired to be a writer, like me. I love this type of character in a book and maybe it’s because it’s like reading a story that has a mirror held up to my own life, my dreams and my fears. This was however not the case. This was one hundred per cent, Muzna’s story and I adored it even more because of that.

A quick synopsis:
Muzna Saleem is a fifteen year old girl who dreams of becoming a writer, only her parents want her to be a doctor. She lives her life feeling as though she is constantly being choked by the wished of her parents who only want her to be a good Muslim girl that stays away from boys, always does what she is told and focuses on her studies. Things change however once Muzna’s father loses his job, her best friend becomes the centre of a Pakistani scandal and their family moves away from the place that she has called home for most of her life. Muzna starts fresh at a new school and is faced with people who have no problem with showing their prejudices, but mostly people who she becomes great friends with. It’s only once she meets Arif and starts experimenting with her religion that things spiral out of control and she is forced to make a decision that challenges her newfound view of faith and her relationships.

First of all, I really enjoyed the beginning of the book when Muzna was a little younger. She was so honest and raw that I scarcely believed the book wasn’t written by Muzna herself. The very essence of what it means to grow up as a girl in a society plagued with unattainable standards was beautifully executed in I Am Thunder. The diversity within this book was yet another thing that made it such an easy read. I wanted to read more because I wanted to know more about these people who spoke in thick English accents, spoke of traditions that I knew very little of and who challenged generalising statements made by people too ignorant to see the harm that they cause.

Khan, a high school teacher in South London, says, “In February 2015 news broke of three British school girls who flew out to Syria to join the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’.

"As a Muslim and a high school teacher, I found this shocking on many levels, so in April 2015, over the two week Easter break, I sat down and wrote the first draft of I Am Thunder."
- Source: My Kinda Book

The fact that Khan took inspiration for this story from such a dangerous reality only solidifies the importance of spreading his message. Young people are too easily being taken advantage of by adults, assuming that their victims are helpless, easily malleable... If we let them believe this, we are the ones failing them. The book not only tackles religious discrimination toward Muslims, but it also challenges LGBTQI rights that were still being violated or ignored in order to maintain appearances. Every time you think that the book won’t go “there”, it sprints in every direction smashing down barriers of ignorance and hatred as it goes. I mostly enjoyed this book because it felt like it was echoing the thoughts of this generation’s kids. They were loud, proud and fearless even though they still make mistakes as we all have in the past. I genuinely believe that every single person should read this book. If you don’t see yourself in the pages, that’s fine. There will be other books and other stories that can reflect your life, but this one is one that needs to be told to children and adults alike. As much as we’d like to believe that people aren’t filled with hate, that is not the case.

There was a scene on a bus where Muzna was taunted by a woman for no reason other than her wearing a hijab in London after a failed terrorist attack. In the scene we see people who stay quiet while this fifteen year old girl is being verbally attacked by an adult. The scene won’t shock you because I’m sure you’ve seen it before, and if not on some TV show then you’ve seen it happen in real life. The question is, were you standing quietly in the bus while someone was being attacked or were you the old lady with a cane who can barely walk, pushing herself off the chair just to come to her defense? The thing is, we should all be that lady, whenever someone is being assaulted in public. Standing up for the rights of another human being should be second nature to us and at the moment it’s not.

I read this book after the Parkland school shooting happened and all I can think about is the irrational people fighting for the right to own a gun in America despite everything that history has shown them could and probably will go wrong again in the future. It baffles me to no end that adults can so incredibly irrational while people are dying around them. Instead of attacking the problem, they attack the students who are the victims of the situation and it only makes my blood boil that this is the world we live in. I Am Thunder explores the strength of the student just as it’s being reflected in real life today. Someone tweeted that people shouldn’t be surprised that students are standing up for themselves and becoming leaders of their own accord because we’ve been feeding them dystopian literature for years now. I completely agree with that. Which is why I think that I Am Thunder should be recognised for the great piece of work that it is as soon as possible so we can all start sharing more stories like this and encouraging students to learn from their mistakes, listen to their friends when they tell them that they are worried, and always (no matter the personal cost) do whatever it takes to do the right thing. 

Let me know if you’ve read this book. I realise that I didn’t discuss much of what actually happened but that’s only because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone interested in reading it. If you think you are, don’t hesitate to pick this gorgeous book up. You definitely won’t regret it    


'I am Muzna Saleem,' I said, lifting my chin. 'I am the cloud that brings the rain'
“Tough though innit? Black man commits a crime, people say he’s a gangbanger. If it’s a muslim, he’s a-”“Terrorist.” I interrupted.He nodded. “But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a ‘lone wolf’, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues.”
 “I don’t need rescuing. The hijab is my crown”
"'I love your hands.' The words slipped out.
His fair cheeks went pink, reminding me of fresh roses. Then holding his hands out to me he said, "Take 'em. They're yours"
We stared into each other's eyes till I was convinced something was going to happen. Thing is, we were Pakistanis. Kissing was illegal."

"Be cool, I told myself, like some bargain-basement life coach. Things sucked at Rigsby because you let them. This is your last chance to shine. Use everything Salma taught you. Use the friggin' Force, if you have to. But BE FRICKING COOL"
"Oh Ami and Dad, I thought ruefully, don't you realise my face is all the contraception I'm ever gonna need?"

 Disclaimer: This copy was sent to me in exchange for a review from the lovely people at Pan Macmillan South Africa. The review reflects my own thoughts and in no way reflects the views of Pan Macmillan. 

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