This novella centers around Reena Jamil, a 22-year old Muslim, Pakistani immigrant and a senior majoring in Accounting at George Mason University. During her last semesters/quarters she meets an American young man, Brian Parker, and experiences her first crush or love. Brian is majoring in management but has no idea what he wants to do with his life beyond graduation, whereas Reena has her life planned: graduate, study for CPA exam, pass exam, get accounting job, and eventually get married. Reena’s parents, however, expect something different…marriage to a good Muslim, Pakistani man and kids. Reena’s best friend, Sofia, is also a Muslim, Pakistani immigrant and tries to guide her in the ways of American dating and expectations. Obviously she isn’t the best guide because she is cyberstalking an old friend from Pakistan, Reza Shaikh.
Reena and Brian breakup after only a few months of dating. The cause of the breakup is Reena’s unwillingness to compromise her religious beliefs by having sex with Brian. Brian feels that Reena is simply playing with him and his emotions as she never expected the relationship to develop further than it had prior to the breakup. Since this is Reena’s first boyfriend and first breakup she is devastated. Obviously not too devastated because she quickly rebounds and finds herself engaged to Brian’s Pakistani roommate, Raheel Malik. At the same time that Reena and Raheel are getting engaged, Sofia is surprised by a visit from Reza and they also become engaged.
Fast-forward a few years and Reena and Raheel are having marital difficulties. She has quit her job and has been diagnosed with infertility issues. This is problematic because in certain cultures a woman’s worth is based upon her ability to procreate. The final blow to the marriage is when Reena randomly encounters Brian after many years and invites him to dinner. Raheel explodes as he presumes she has been with an ex-boyfriend and that is a slap to his ego. Is Raheel experiencing true jealousy or simply suffering from false-pride based on cultural and familial values? Mirroring these problems, Sofia finds herself pregnant and Reza is astounded that she would make such a decision (stopping her birth control pills and attempting to get pregnant) without discussing it with him first. Reza has had difficulty finding “gainful” employment in the US and is suffering because his wife is making more money than he is…big slight in some cultures.
Fast forward another few years and Reena is living in North Carolina and working part-time in a bookstore. She encounters a pregnant teenager that has been kicked out of her home. And guess what? Reena takes her in and winds up adopting the infant. Adoption was something her ex-husband Raheel would never consider because he desired a child of his flesh and blood.
There are some major cultural, religious and age-related issues that are superficially addressed in this story, most likely due to the short nature of the story. Ms. Ahmed has an interesting premise and possibly great characters, but the characters seem underdeveloped and they all appear to have maturity issues. Again, this deficiency may also be related to the brevity of the story. The First may not be considered great literature and has a few problem areas but it is still a decent read, at least in my opinion.
DISCLOSURE: This book was received free from the author/publisher for review purposes. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”