BOOK REVIEW: TRIED & TESTED By Umm Juwayriyah
Genre: Urban Muslim Fiction
“A teenage Iman Johnson left home over a decade ago to follow behind a street loving hustler who promised her the world. When that world became too much for her to endure, mentally and physically, she found herself back in Pittsburgh, PA at her Muslim mother’s doorstep seeking refuge. But will the Muslim family and community that she’d turned her back on years ago be ready to finally accept her or has too much time, emotions, hurt, and secrets built up between them to overcome? Iman will have to find the strength to face her past and relearn the basics if she ever hopes to find the sweetness of faith Allah promises …”
TRIED & TESTED by author Umm Juwayriyah, is a harrowing story about a young Black, American Muslim woman, who returns home and back to the family and community she had once so eagerly and foolishly left behind years ago–all under the hallowed pretense of ‘young love.' However, upon her return over a decade later, she finds herself hurled straight back into many of the same tests she’d thought she had escaped. Problems and stresses mount, taunting, and beckoning her back into their toxic and deadly fold.
Throughout the story, this frightened yet brave Muslimah fought to remain steadfast in her beliefs. She wanted to start again, a fresh new start–free from abuse. But as her hopes and prayers collided head-on with the danger she left behind, she soon understood that running away and making the hard choice to stay away was only the first of many steps still needed before becoming safe and whole again.
The main character, Iman, has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], a common mood disorder suffered by many victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately but equally as common, she uses alcohol to self-medicate. To survive the past and finally move on, she needs to reach out for help, but because of her history of hurts and self-doubt, she doesn’t always know where to turn to or to whom. Not a surprising reaction to have, especially after years of being brutally beaten. She learns that despite the many nightmares and burdens she carries–trust is something she must relearn and reclaim. Fortunately, she comes from a Muslim family and community who adamantly refuse to allow her to give up on herself. When she wavers–they are there to swoop own and protect–even when she fights them back. Together they help Iman to understand that nobody lives a charmed life, free from mistakes and sin. That everyone at one time or another must face their demons or clean up after some painful or embarrassing mistake, but with Allah at the helm and devotion leading the way, they can eventually find solid footing–helping one another to embrace new norms, and learning new ways to navigate through life’s trials and turmoil
This novel also touched on some extremely heavy topics, which I applaud because all too often, racism and bigotry dominate the written narrative; more often than not portraying Islam and Muslims through some myopic and intolerant narrow lens, while refusing to exemplify or include the many vibrant and remarkable communities Muslims in America live, thrive and lead through. Others write stories that ignore the issues, neglecting the real problems Muslims are facing, choosing to rather focus on the ideal instead of the reality. Not this author. She did not permit her character's to shy away from hard and painful topics–like domestic violence, sexual assault, family discord, racism, bigotry, prison, unwanted pregnancies, failed marriages, and drug abuse. I loved the way she presented romance, betrothal, and family commitment. Each one of her complicated characters were beautifully and deliciously flawed–real and so blessedly transparent.
From start to finish, the story unfolded at a strong pace. I truly appreciated how the author demonstrated how well-meaning people could on the one hand very much love Allah with all their heart –––but STILL make poor choices. Her characters highlighted how imperative it is to remember that failure is not the total of who the person struggling is or strives to become–nor is it anyone but Allah’s job to judge a person’s intentions–a powerful and timely reminder.
I honestly couldn’t wait for my copy of this book to arrive, anticipating an enjoyable read, but I can now say without reserve, TRIED & TESTED delivered that and a whole lot more.
"Umm Juwayriyah (Maryam A. Sullivan) is an indigenous Muslim American woman born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts - the former home of Merriam Webster Dictionary, the birth place of basketball, and the birth place of Dr. Seuss! Her love of writing developed early and landed her an internship at the Republican News Paper during her high school day. Her journalism pursuits led her to spoken word, then play-writing, and finally to creating Urban Islamic fiction with her debut novel, The Size of a Mustard Seed. Umm Juwayriyah is a alumna of Bay Path University for women in New England and Regis University in Denver, Colorado where she received her Masters of Arts with honors."