The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah (NetGalley Review)

3/5 stars

Can a single moment define your whole life?

That’s something we all think about, whether we want to or not, and in The Beauty of Your Face, the life of Afaf is explored through the frame of the worst day of her life–when the Muslim all-girls school where she works faces an attack by a radicalised alt-right shooter.

I had high expectations for this one–it’s gotten lots of buzz online and off and the premise intrigued me. The book is told in a series of flashbacks, in the 1970s when Afaf’s older sister disappears, in the 1980s when Afaf struggles as a rebellious teenager, in the 1990s and 2000s when she grows as a teacher and a leader in her Muslim-American community. The book hits a lot of familiar first-generation-American-narrative beats, as she intially rejects religion and then finds community in it later on as her family struggles to adapt to her older sister Nada’s unsolved disappearance.

On paper, this looked like a book I’d love, but unfortunately that brief plot description is just a fraction of what happens–there’s lots of loose ends that never get tied up properly, tons more family drama that goes mostly-unaddressed, and Afaf’s general flatness as a character. Things just happen to her and she responds accordingly, but we never get enough real depth to her development.

The frame narrative of the school shooting is jarring, and really doesn’t say much about Afaf or her development–almost all those scenes are through the eyes of the shooter himself, who is not a character I really think deserves a perspective in this type of story. There are some scenes where it feels as though we’re supposed to emphathise with this deranged and violent man, which just makes me feel… honestly icky is the only word coming to mind.

The scenes where Afaf finds community in her religion were touching but didn’t really connect with me on a deeper level–the rebel-turned-good-girl plot is generally a bit tired. Mustafah’s writing is beautiful, and I can tell she put a lot of care into this work, but it just wasn’t cohesive enough to grip me.

There are a lot of more interesting books hiding in this–I would have probably been much more engrossed had Mustafah focused only on the narrative of the shooting and its aftermath, or Nada’s disappearance and the family’s difficulty coping with said. I’d be eager to check out what she does next, but when it comes to The Beauty of Your Face, it really didn’t live up to my expectations.

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. You can learn more about Net Galley here.

THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE on Amazon.co.uk:

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