Once Upon an Eid is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!
This was truly the most joyful short story collection! There are some sadder stories (CWs for parent loss, bullying) but it would make a great collection for young readers, those who celebrate Eid and those with no knowledge of it.
I’ve learned more about Eid in the last couple years but there’s still a lot I don’t know and even though this book is intended for middle grade readers, it taught me so much about the holiday. And reading it right before Eid al-Fitr was so special! I noticed the growing moon each night and could now recognize the significance of it to those celebrating.
The books below aren’t all literary fiction, or necessarily depressing, but they are quite heavy though there are some uplifting moments too!
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi Genre: YA Fiction Own voices: Black MC
A thought-provoking and haunting novel about a creature that escapes from an artist’s canvas, whose talent is sniffing out monsters in a world that claims they don’t exist anymore.
I’ve talked about this one a bit before and of course so have many in the book world. It’s the first I’ve read by Emezi and I’m glad to have finally checked out this well-loved author.
This book has an interesting premise in that it takes place after all the ‘monsters’ have been driven out of the town. Kids are taught about how the ‘angels’ of the city led this revolution to drive out evil but many folks avoid directly talking about the kinds of crimes and societal issues that this community has supposedly moved past.
It’s something that feels very recognizable in our present day, with people increasingly calling for awareness and reform regarding issues impacting minoritized groups. Emezi bases the story around an important question, “How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?“, and it’s one that challenges the way we think of our own interactions with our communities.
There are some beautiful lessons here in the importance of community care and the strength people have when they all come together.
Each of today’s books are inspired by real events or the author’s own experiences, but I could just as easily have titled these ‘books about trauma’.
Take care when reading, friends! I’ve included some content warnings for the below as well (and a reminder that StoryGraph has a great collection of reader-source CWs for many books).
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright Genre: Literary Fiction | Horror Own voices: Iraqi Content warnings: death, violence, body horror, suicide, war, murder
From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi–a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café–collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed.
Frankenstein is one of my favourite classics so I was very intrigued by this retelling. CWs for my review here (as well as the book) as I get into some of the graphic detail and heavier content in setting up this story.
This book follows the original classic with a murderous creature formed out of multiple corpses. However in Saadawi’s story, these corpses are victims of suicide bombings, the story set in Iran following the USA’s invasion, and the creature sets out to seek justice for these parts of it’s self.
While the author doesn’t directly comment on foreign conflicts and warring governments, we see the horrific impacts of this violence on each character in the book and the larger implications and realizations are subtly pushed forward throughout the story for the reader to come to on their own.
Because of this more subtle undertone, it does feel that the descriptions of death and destruction are at times callous or impartial but I think the author’s intentions and style work beautifully in getting his point across.