Different. Brilliant. One of a kind.
I was going to give this book 4 stars only BUT THAT ENDING DAMMIT, exactly how I wanted it to be!
"I don't care about I love yous - they're for people who don't know any better. You should never change is the culmination of all your flaws made necessary: the imperfect sum of an imperfect past, which turned to be a good thing for someone."
Sofia is thirty years old when she breaks up with her potential husband, Imran, after he asks her to live with his parents and a hole-in-the-wall. Sofia works in publishing, and when she relates this story to her co-workers, her boss becomes very interested in the different aspects of Muslim dating, and proceeds to ask Sofia to write a book about it. What follows is mostly insights into Sofia's life as she writes the book, though the book itself doesn't particularly have priority, it is the starting point for a lot of the situations Sofia gets into.
"Perhaps this is God's way of saying, here, you might not have a man, but have a book instead."
The book is told from Sofia's perspective in a diary-style format, so naturally much of the book's success depends upon how much you like Sofia as a character. Personally, I loved her. I thought she was a very real, very relatable character. She's by no means perfect, which for my part only made her more likable. She's stubborn, hardly ever giving in to anyone, and she's very funny, her humour is often very dry and sarcastic, so I really appreciated it. I really liked that Sofia was quick to defend her beliefs in every aspect of her life. If someone said something she disagreed with, or took issue to, she almost always let them know. Even if that someone was a member of her own family. She has a close relationship with her dad, which I loved reading about, and I feel like I don't see this anywhere near often enough. Her dad was very funny, and it was very easy to warm to him. Sofia comes under a lot of criticism from members of their extended family and, at some point, the families of people that she's considering dating.
As this book is a romantic comedy, obviously I need to mention the romance. Sofia had several potential partners over the course of the book-which you'd expect, given that she's writing a book on Muslim dating-and I really liked seeing the various successes and failures of these dates that she goes on. It offered some very funny insights into the world of online dating, as Sofia meets more than her fair share of odd ones when she signs up to Shaadi.com (later referred to only as "Shady"). I'm not going to spoil who she ends up with, but I will say that I loved how the relationship developed. It felt very easy and natural - and though I did have an inkling as to who it might be very early on, that didn't make it any less satisfying.
Female friendship also has an important role in this book. While I'm no expert on romance novels or films, it often feels like the protagonist's friendships can get brushed aside in favour of the love interest, or they'll just have one particularly close friend, but that wasn't the case here. Sofia's friends are all well-developed, brilliant women, and though the focus is obviously on Sofia's life, we get to see a fair share of her friends' lives too.
"Must be grateful for friends who forgive and forget. They are the best kind."
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged has often been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and I can definitely see the comparison. However, there are several points of differences that do get touched on throughout. There are some things that Sofia experiences that a non-Muslim protagonist would not experience. The reaction to her situation with her almost-husband, for one, and the assumption that she'd somehow get into trouble for writing the book. Very early on, a man calls Sofia a terrorist after she accidentally bumps into him while trying to get on the tube, and there's a very uncomfortable moment wherein Sofia's editor asks Sofia if she'll take off her hijab so she can see her hair, and then proceeds to touch her hair without her permission. I really liked that these moments were in the book. Like I said, they were important points of difference. They were all dealt with very lightly, and the book never gets too dark.
"One of the issues about the whole 'being alone' stance is not having anyone to share the world's problems with. A person's been scoped out of your life and so you speak into a pit of nothingness."
I highly recommend this book. I guarantee you're going to take something away from it. I really look forward to reading anything else Ayisha Malik writes.