LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS

Samira Ahmed

In Samira Ahmed’s New York Times bestselling debut novel, an Indian-American Muslim teen copes with Islamophobia, cultural divides among peers and parents, and a reality she can neither explain nor escape.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school,

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In Samira Ahmed’s New York Times bestselling debut novel, an Indian-American Muslim teen copes with Islamophobia, cultural divides among peers and parents, and a reality she can neither explain nor escape.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

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  • Soho Teen
  • Hardcover
  • January 2018
  • 288 Pages
  • 9781616958473

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$18.99

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About Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in a small town in Illinois in a house that smelled like fried onions, cardamom, and potpourri. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English, helped create dozens of small high schools, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools. She’s lived in Vermont, Chicago, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sam_aye_ahm.

Author Website

Praise

A New York Times Bestseller
An ABA “Indies Introduce” Selection for Winter/Spring 2018
An ABA IndieNext “Top Pick”
A Spring 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
A Kobo Winter eBook Indie Pick

​“Intensely readable.”—The Guardian

“Heartfelt . . . Ahmed deftly and incisively explores the complicated spaces between ‘American and Indian and Muslim’ in modern America.”Teen Vogue

“Ahmed authentically and expertly tells a story relevant to today’s climate. More than that, it’s a meaningful #OwnVoices book about identity and inner strength that everyone should absolutely read.”—Buzzfeed

Discussion Questions

1. Maya begins her story with the phrase, “Destiny sucks.” What do you think she means, and why does she start her story this way?

2. Maya tells Phil that she doesn’t know how to be a good daughter while at the same time chasing after her own dreams. Why does she feel that these things are at odds? Does she change her mind over the course of the book?

3. Maya’s story is told in the first-person POV and the intercalary story is told from the third-person POV. Why do you think the author made that choice? How did that influence the way you related to the two narratives?

4. Why does Phil feel responsible for Brian’s actions? What, if anything, could he have done differently that might have changed the outcome? What does this say about the broader theme of how events outside of our control affect us?

5. When we first meet Kareem he is a possible love interest for Maya but he transforms into something different. Why do you think Kareem still holds an important place in Maya’s life?

6. Do you think that Maya is right to lie to her parents? Is there a difference between a protective lie and a self-serving lie?

7. Maya is a Muslim from an immigrant family. Even if you aren’t from the same background as Maya, how could you relate to her struggles and dreams? What about her experiences felt familiar?

8. Consider the title Love, Hate & Other Filters. How does Maya use filters in her daily life? How do the other characters use filters? What filters do you use?

9. Maya inhabits a variety of different worlds. How are they at odds with one another? What (if anything) brings them together? Should they be brought together?

10. What is the significance of the Whitman poem in the last intercalary chapter? What values/ideals in the poem are reflected in Maya’s choices? Why would this poem have had meaning to the bomber?

Interviews

AN INTERVIEW WITH SAMIRA AHMED AND EDITOR DANIEL EHRENHAFT

Q: At its heart, Love, Hate & Other Filters is a coming-of-age story about someone who longs for change on her own terms. Did you feel that same intense desire to break free—from family, community, and expectation—as an adolescent?

In some ways, I still do.

Since I was a kid I bristled against the idea of following a prescribed path. In part because I’m a contrarian, but also because I believe that freedom is autonomy. Only you can decide what is best for yourself, for yourself. That said, I believe it is important to listen, and to keep your mind open to the experience and knowledge of others. In all likelihood there is no true “road not taken”; the paths we might take in our lives could be familiar to those who’ve trod them in the past. But the choice of how we approach each next step belongs to us. I believed that as a teen, and I believe that now.

Q: As a former teacher, you’ve played a huge role in the lives of teenagers. Did any of your former students impact you in similarly profound ways, and did that inform your writing at all?

I could tell stories for days about the many ways in which my former students inspired me.

There are three students in particular who showed me what it means to persist. Each came from a marginalized community, and each from a different background—one was a refugee from a former Soviet Republic and spoke no English when she arrived in high school; one’s family escaped Iran before the Revolution; one was the child of a single mom working multiple jobs to make ends meet. All three of these students worked incredibly hard. All were amongst the first in their families to go to college in America. None had the privileges that some of my other students took for granted. The system by its very nature was unfair to them. But even in the face of this unfairness, these three students leveraged a privilege they did have—the resources of good schools—to pull themselves and their communities up.

I’ll never forget when a mom, a woman who had dropped out of school in 8th grade, implored me to push her daughter academically because she desperately wanted her daughter to succeed. That young woman, of her own initiative, stayed after school for extra help, nearly every day because she wanted to get her grades up to qualify for an advanced literature course. She did. But making it wasn’t enough for her, so she stayed late to study so she could get an A, so she could graduate from high school with honors. So she could be the first in her family to go to college. So she could get her master’s degree. So she could move back to her neighborhood and serve her community. She did all that while working after school, taking care of four younger siblings while her mom worked, and with all the odds against her.

Students like her made me want to tell stories of kids who persist, of kids who get knocked down and stand up, again and again. I hope the stories I write can show kids that they are not alone, that their voices and their contributions are important and needed. I hope that if there is a reader out there feeling exhausted from battling a world telling them NO, they can look to my book and find a little hope.

Q: Without giving away any spoilers, Maya’s life changes after a tragic newsworthy event, far removed from her day-to-day life. Were you in any way inspired by such an event or events?

Every Muslim I know in America has been burned by Islamophobia in varying degrees.

My first experience with bigotry was when I was about eight years old. Jimmy Carter was president, and the United States was reeling in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis—a terrifying episode in which over fifty Americans were taken hostage in the US Embassy in Iran by a group who supported the Iranian Revolution and were calling for the Shah to be ousted and tried in court. Even as a child, it was impossible to miss the details of this crisis as it was unfolding on the news every night. I was the only Muslim in my school and in my town and one of the only students of color in my school district. And it was the first time I remember my mother being scared of what someone might say or do to me.

On a day trip to Chicago, we were caught in traffic. My parents were in the front seat, talking to each other and I was in the back seat. I had my window rolled down because it was warm but I could still feel a slight breeze and I wanted to stick my head as close to the outside as my parents would allow because I loved looking around the city. A car pulled up beside us—its front passenger side right next to my window. Two grown men were in the car and the passenger rolled down his window and pointed his finger at me and yelled, “Go home you goddamned fucking Iranian.”

I was stunned. Not terrified because I don’t think I knew enough to be totally frightened. But I couldn’t believe that two adult men would yell at a kid they didn’t know. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t realize we were Indian and not Iranian. It was the first time in my life anyone had ever directed the “F-word” toward me. And it was the first time someone tried to hold me responsible for the actions of other human beings—people I had no connection to or control over.

That incident is crystallized in my memory and I tried to bring the rawness of that moment—the disbelief and the disconnect to my story.

Q: Documentary films and filmmaking are a passion of Maya’s, and it’s clear that you’re a cineaste. How does your love and knowledge of film influence your writing?

I love how film captures feeling in the sparest ways—light dripping off leaves or a close up of an actor’s eyes or simply silence. I’m especially struck by all the elements that must come together to create these powerful, seemingly simple moments that speak to the human condition and touch us with their beauty or sadness or horror.

The best example I can offer of an artist whose painstaking work appears both effortless and utterly stunning is master filmmaker Satyajit Ray. In a two-minute scene in Pather Panchali, with virtually no dialogue, Ray takes the viewer on a journey through a rainfall, first gentle then a deluge, that shows surprise and joy and purity and fear and the most touching moment of a sister’s love for her brother.

A more contemporary example of a scene that speaks powerfully with imagery and with little dialogue is the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman. This scene is easily my favorite moment in any superhero film because director Patty Jenkins not only captures the truth and essence of Diana’s character as she becomes Wonder

Woman, but she speaks to every woman and girl who stands up, who believes in who she is and what she must do, when the world is telling her to take a back seat. I hope my writing can distill truths in the way these scenes and so many like them do—to express a truth that speaks to my readers.

Q: Related, in an ideal world, who would you cast as Maya if Love, Hate & Other Filters were to be made into a movie?

In an ideal world, I would have many choices of young actresses who could portray Maya, but in the current state of Hollywood, I do not. South Asian actors have certainly been making breakthroughs in television and the big screen, but diverse casts still feel like an exception and not the rule. Even today, we see Asian roles being whitewashed and hear false claims that diverse films and movies with female leads don’t make money.

I could look to Bollywood actors, like Alia Bhatt, but young adult actors are rare in Bollywood and I would be choosing a twenty-five-year-old to play a seventeen-year-old. But Maya is a seventeen-year-old American, Desi Muslim girl and I would love to see an American actor chosen for my dream cast for the book. I have no doubt that that talent is out there—that on some high school stage or in some community theatre or on a YouTube channel there are Desi kids acting their hearts out, waiting to be discovered.

It’s clear that audiences want these stories—that stories like Maya’s are both singular and universal, mirror and window. It wouldn’t necessarily take an industry iconoclast to bring Maya’s story to the big screen, but it would take someone with vision who believes, as I do, that we don’t live in a world of “others” but in a world of us.