cover image Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Bushra Rehman. Flatiron, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-83478-2

Rehman beautifully conjures in her stellar debut a Queens, N.Y., Pakistani American community and a girl’s coming to terms with her identity. As children, Razia and her friends bounce between houses under the watchful eyes of Pakistani aunties and loll about in backyards overgrown with roses, sunflowers, and grapevines, as well as weeds, old sofas, and rusty cars. The scenes brim with the pluck and tumult of young friendship while also portraying the uneasy racial balance that the first-generation children navigate in 1980s Queens. In the summer, of ’85, Razia and her friend Saima secretly collect cans to scrounge up money, defying their parents. When treated with disdain by employees at the collection center, Razia realizes why they were told to stay away from it. Back at school in the sixth grade, a group of mean girls descends upon Razia and her friend Taslima, shouting, “Pajama People!” While acutely aware of how her Muslim faith differentiates her, Razia finds comfort and beauty in her heritage, connecting her “like a kite string” to everyone she loves. Razia happily coexists among cultures, excelling at reading the Quran and harboring an intense crush on George Michael, until she gains a spot at a competitive high school in Manhattan. There, she falls in love with a girl, forcing her to choose between her true self and her family. A distinctive and infectious voice takes hold of the reader from the first page, where Razia introduces her neighborhood: “the Corona F. Scott Fitzgerald called the valley of ashes... but what me and my own know as home.” This deeply immersive novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new writer. (Dec.)