Book Review: A Love That Disturbs, by Medeia Sharif

Content warning for physical abuse, rape, emotional abuse & blackmail, sexual trafficking, and extreme violence against women. Genre : Drama, Contemporary, Romance, F/F Fiction

Before we start, I feel that we need to go back over the content warning header— because this is not an easy read at all. This book features some of the worst things human beings do to one another and some pretty gut wrenching abuse. This book is a good example of an emotional rollercoaster, with heartwarming cuteness at times and disaster at others. Despite this, the violence pictured is violence that happens every day against women in every part of the world.

I feel we should also take time to talk about Muslims— one of the lead characters of this book being a hijabi woman after all— in the LGBTQI community. In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, it is obvious that violence and abuse will impact a community that is not responsible for the actions of the few. But we, as the non-Muslim LGBTQI community, should be even more wary of not alienating and pushing away those among us who are both Muslim and LGBTQI. Making it about “us” and “them” in regards to Muslims has always been hateful and bigoted, and disregarding Muslims LGBTQI people is just as terrible.

This is the first day for Haydee in her new school. She’s back from alternative and juvie schools after a hard life as a gang member— a life she firmly wants to leave behind. But she’s not quite out of it yet and there remains the matter of her abusive and extremely violent pimp who still maintains control over her. As a sexually trafficked minor, she doesn’t get any say at all— what had first been for her a means of survival has become a trap. But she still needs the money to get out and start anew. At school, she meets Maysa Mazari, a charming and bright hijabi student. Maysa is the first person that sees her for who she is, without judgment or prejudice about her past. However Maysa’s friends don’t like Haydee and do everything within their power to separate the two. So when their friendship turns into something more and Haydee decides to fully cut ties with her past, danger arises for both girls as violence escalates.

As I said, A Love That Disturbs elicits strong emotions. Both of these girls, who are attending the last year of high school are victims of some form of abuse. Maysa is slowly realizing how evil and mean her friend Aamal is; she’s a manipulator and an abuser with venom on her tongue and as soon as Maysa befriends Haydee,  she turns their mutual friends against her. Haydee is controlled by her pimp, Rafe, a violent and manipulating man who won’t let her stop sex work. Both of these girls are very believably written teenagers although Haydee was forced to grow up by the horrifying experiences she’s had and remains chillingly mature for her age. The experiences they face will force them to grow up further and their romance will start a journey towards independence and freedom from their respective abusers.

Their friendship builds quickly— Maysa is a kind soul who refuses to let her judgmental friends paint Haydee as a “walking STD” or a delinquent drop out. She’s more curious and interested in Haydee than anything. I liked that Haydee was initially awkward and a bit insensitive about Islam, even telling Maysa that “she has really pretty hair and shouldn’t cover it”. Her reading about Islam afterwards to get to know Maysa's religion better was a very endearing and cute move. I liked how their relationship plays out too— it’s not one saving the other from their life, it’s about each girl finding the strength and hope in their relationship to cut ties with their abusers.

Medeia Sharif's writing is tight and an easy read. Points of view alternate each chapter between the two girls and while it is sometimes a little awkward due to some chapters going backwards in time, it remains a very pleasant read. I however felt that she tells too much, which is surprising because she shows just enough— A few times the narration would repeat what I felt was obvious but that too was a minor problem.

To sum up A Love That Disturbs deals with difficult subject matter that may not be easy to read and will certainly be extremely triggering to some readers but it is still powerful and an excellent read.

A Love That Disturbs is published by Evernight Teen, and can be found on the publisher's website.

Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.