Review: That Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim

Not going to lie, I was SUPER excited to read this book. I’m a huge fan of Urdu poetry and chicklit so this was my two favourite things combined.

The story follows newly graduated Shabnam who is trying to get over the fact that her best friend Farrah has started wearing the hijab. She looks forward to a lazy summer until she meets charismatic Jamie at her new job at the pie shack. Shabnam falls head over heels in love and begins comparing herself to common allusions in Urdu poetry. Meanwhile, Farrah worries about Jamie. What could possible go wrong?

When I first found out that this was about a Pakistani-American, I thought the portrayal would be more… conventional. The book begins with Shabnam doing jello shots at a party and then makes out with a boy in a hot tub. I don’t believe in policing the way people believe in religion but there’s nothing mildly Muslim or Pakistani about Shabnam other than the fact that her parents are Pakistani. She can’t speak Urdu fluently, she says she doesn’t really believe in God, and she had no idea what her family’s background is. She might as well be a white girl obsessed with Urdu poetry because that’s what she is. If she drank and had sex while still believing in God, I might’ve accepted that this book portrayed Muslim Americans but she didn’t even do that.

As for Shabnam as a character, she seemed shallow and selfish. She didn’t care about other people’s feelings and in general was very unlikable. Everything she did seemed to be for her own benefit and she viewed everyone through this whitewashed lens. She was tolerable at most. I couldn’t relate to her on any level and she was like every other “summer fling” heroine but more obnoxious.

As for Jamie, he was the most cookie cutter boy love interest I’ve ever seen. Boy had no personality and just showed how desperate Shabnam was. If that was the point, well done. I mean, he says he likes chicken tikka and you profess your love to him? Pathetic.

Strangely enough, the other characters were beautifully written. From Farrah to Chotay Dada to Shabnam’s eccentric father to Dino. I loved every single one of them. Especially Farrah. I wish more insight into her life because she was an amazing character. The personalities of the supporting characters really shone through while Shabnam’s personality embodied a wet blanket. Most of the time, I just felt bad for these characters because they deserved so much more.

I wish there was more of the Urdu poetry element. Or that it was explored to a greater depth. The analysis and understanding that Shabnam had was really shallow. Urdu poetry is never just about love and I don’t think the book explored that notion enough.

Final Thoughts: Read for the characters or if you want a quick book about a summer fling. Don’t expect loads of Urdu poetry though.




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