A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. 2018. SJP for Hogarth.
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?
A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.
A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.
Why A Place for Us Matters
This impressive debut is filled with themes that many students will find relatable: tensions between parents and teens, the desire to forge one’s own path while still earning approval, and the love and rivalry between siblings. I find that my students love books told through multiple perspectives, but they don’t often get that type of narration in the books they read for school. In A Place for Us, I particularly appreciate how Mirza gives us the perspectives of both the parents and the children. This narrative structure is so important for teenagers, who often struggle to understand other people’s motives and desires, particularly those of their parents.
While many of the novel’s themes are pretty universal, it also offers a story and perspective that are frequently missing from our classrooms. A Place for Us focuses on a first-generation Indian-American family. The cultural tension between more traditional parents, Rafiq and Layla, and their American-born children will surely speak to students who are the children of immigrants and offer a window into that experience for students whose families have been in the US longer. Additionally, the novel spans the September 11th attacks and depicts the heartwrenching implications of that atrocity on this Muslim American family. This is so important for today’s high school students, who weren’t even born when 9/11 occurred, yet continue to see and live with the ramifications of those attacks and the subsequent wars.
Themes and Social Issues: Immigration, parenthood, cultural conflict, forgiveness and redemption, betrayal, familial love, unconditional love.
Literary Features: Mirza writes A Place for Us is in a non-chronological structure. The novel begins and ends with Hadia’s wedding where estranged son Amar’s attendance is a point of anxiety. As the books flashes back in time, readers slowly learn how the family arrived at this place. Notably, the novel is told through alternating first-person points of view, offering readers a chance to experience the same events through multiple perspectives.
Pairs Well With: The Joy Luck Club, Everything I Never Told You, East of Eden, The Scarlet Letter
Content Warnings: There’s quite a bit of drug use in this novel, but it’s not glamorized or glorified in any way.
Grade Level Recommendation: 11th-12th.
Notes from My Classroom: I put A Place for Us on the summer reading list for my senior elective, Women in Literature. Only two students chose it, but both really liked it. One student said that, as the daughter of immigrants, this book represented her experience more than any others she’d read for school. Another student expressed her desire to read more about the Muslim American experience after reading this book. While I found Rafiq’s section of the book the most profound, however, both students said that this end section dragged for them.
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