Cover Image: The Beauty of Your Face

The Beauty of Your Face

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Member Reviews

Powerful, moving, and complex, The Beauty of Your Face is the life story of Afaf, a Palestinian American woman told in two intertwining storylines.  The story opens as Afaf is trapped in a closet listening to a shooter progress through the Muslim school for girls where she is principal.   She has flashbacks to earlier periods of her life, beginning with her childhood when her dysfunctional family was torn apart by her older sister’s disappearance. 

Overall, this was both a fascinating and riveting read which was also beautifully written.  It is the touching story of a young girl’s self-discovery, her experiences as an immigrant as well as her growth into womanhood.  It also touches upon numerous other social, religious, and political issues.  I had a few minor issues with two of the characters- her older sister and the gunman and the ending which, unfortunately, I did not find nearly as strong as the remainder of the book.  Took off a star but would still highly recommend.

FYI - I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Such a powerful story. I can’t believe I haven’t heard this being raves about more often. I just don’t have enough words to express how truly great this story was. There were some things with the school shooting scene that could have done better to pull the reader into the moment.  But overall it didn’t take away from the story.
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This was a beautiful story that I find to be relevant to today's world. I was jolted by the events at the beginning of the book concerning the attack on the school. This, unfortunately, is a reality we continue to face. I also gained understanding into Afaf's life and the events that shaped her. I would include this on my classroom bookshelf to give my students a chance to think about religion, discrimination, and hope.
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THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE by Sahar Mustafah is a complex story about Muslim identity and Islamic faith centered around a school shooting. As Afaf Rahman – the principal of a school for Muslim girls in the suburbs of Chicago – comes face-to-face with active shooter at her school, we are brought back through Afaf’s life to explore her family, her experience as daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and her religious journey.

There is a lot I enjoyed about THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE, but it felt like I was reading two separate stories smashed together in one book. The chapters focusing on Afaf’s life were spectacular. Her experiences are presented as both specific to her identity of Palestinian-American and Muslim as well as universal. Afaf and her family struggle with loss, discrimination, strained relationships, mental health issues, substance abuse in a way that many readers will identify with. Unlike the chapters about Afaf’s past, the sections about the shooter that were interspersed throughout fell flat. Though these chapters are very tense and emotional, I found myself wanting to get back to the heart and soul of the book: Afaf, her family, her community, her religion. The radicalization of hate against Muslim people is important to discuss, but the school shooting felt unnecessary to the main story.

The most memorable part of the story for me is the powerful depiction of Afaf’s hijab celebration. We get to see the importance of the hijab to Afaf, the meaning of the hijab in Islam, and the stigma and bigotry surrounding the hijab in a post 9/11 United States. The discussion of the hijab is so important and handled with great nuance, heart, and even humor – I loved when Afaf first wears her hijab at work and her 3rd grade students ask many well-intentioned though silly questions.

THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE is a moving story about family, identity, and faith. The story is well written and a vivid depiction of life in the US for a Palestinian-American. Though I felt the school shooting plot point was unneeded, overall all I found the book an enjoyable and eye-opening read.
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Among the stunning debut books that have just come out is this story of a Palestinian-American woman. Afaf struggles with not only the problems of growing up, but that of having a father who is alcoholic, a mother who has been committed to mental wards in a hospital, a sister who disappeared, and religious discrimination. When after a horrible car accident her father turns back to Islam, he encourages her to join him. For me, a non-Muslim, learning about what goes on in a mosque, the importance of the hijab and what happens on a Hajj was enlightening. When you start the book, you will think it is going to be about a mass shooting in a Muslim girls’ school, and it is, but it is so much more. It is a look at what caused the “non-social” white man to commit such murder and it shows the compassion that is a big part of being a Muslim.
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This book about a Palestinian family in Chicago, Illinois begins with a school shooting.  Afaf, the principal of a school for Muslim girls, is praying when the gunman opens fire.  Then the book goes back to Afaf’s childhood.  Afaf is raised in Chicago in the 1970s with her not very religious parents, her older sister, and her younger brother. Her father loves records and music, but her mother longs for her home country and struggles with what seems to be depression.  The family is torn apart when Afaf’s teenage sister, Nada, doesn’t come home one night.

I can’t say I loved The Beauty of Your Face, but it did make me think, and I identified with Afaf’s struggles as a girl and as a teenager to fit in with her schoolmates and develop her identity.  As a teenager, she internalizes the loss of her sister and her mother's depression, and she tries to lose herself by fooling around with the boys at school – because at least by being bad, she feels something.

Her father becomes religious and invites her to join her at his mosque – there she begins to find an acceptance and an identity she didn’t have before.

I always appreciate reading about Muslim families, to get more insights about their religion and different customs.  I liked that Mustafah presents different views of the religion and doesn’t show its followers as perfect.  She also shines a light on the racism and bigotry aimed at those who are Muslim and Arab, especially after 9/11.

However, as I'm not very religious, the book felt a little too insistent that religion was a cure-all for Afaf’s problems. I would have liked a more nuanced approach, although I can appreciate that author Mustafah wants to present a very positive view of the religion, while countering the negative stereotypes about Muslim women, like the idea that women wearing traditional clothing like the hijab are oppressed.

Unfortunately, the latter part of the book, where Afaf is a mother and wife, felt short and disconnected. I  felt the school shooting storyline wasn’t as well developed as it could be. I appreciated that as a school leader, Afaf had prepared for the possibility of a school shooting, particularly in a school that had already experienced vandalism and bomb threats.  We get some insights about the shooter, but these were pretty minimal, and the conclusion of the book felt abrupt. 

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher W.W. Norton & Co.  The book published April 7, 2020.
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There was way too much going on with this book. Afaf’s story alone would have made a compelling novel about a Palestinian-American woman. Her family life made me sad. As would the school shooting plot. It was too much together crammed into about 300 pages. I did however like the author’s writing style and character development and I would try another one of her books.
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4.5 stars rounded up

This was almost a 5 star book, but there are a few, very small things that held it back. *Very, very small.* I can't quite put my finger on all of them, but I find I'm unsatisfied with this review as a whole because I'm still ruminating. It's been a couple days and I still don't seem to have my thoughts together on it. What follows is not my best review, but the best I could come up with for now...

I'm trying to separate this book and discuss it on its own merits and not constantly compare it to the other, (and much celebrated) Palestinian American book that I have read (No Woman Is No Man). My review of that can be found here. However, I do want to share my comparison first, and then discuss the merits of this book after.

For good and bad, I couldn't help comparing the two as I read. Although both were snapshots into the lives of Palestinian American immigrants, the experiences of both families are quite different. In, AWINM, a young Palestinian girl is married to an older, Palestinian boy who is currently living in America with his parents. Her vision of what it would be like to be married and in America drastically differs from what her life turns out to be. My extreme reluctance to give high praise with that book (which is obviously a minority opinion), is that it really only showed one perspective in a plethora of different experiences for Palestinians in this country. I felt ABOYF had many more shades of gray represented and was much more balanced in terms of how the Palestinian American immigrant experience was depicted. (This coming from the white girl - don't worry, I rolled my eyes for you.)

I could have read about Afaf's life from beginning to end. Ms. Mustafah's writing is superb. From her childhood of living in her older sister's shadow, which only got worse when she disappeared. Afaf was a truly lost soul until she found religion. While I think "finding religion" could have been eye roll worthy (especially as feeding into a certain stereotype), the way it was written was 100% credible in my eyes. It didn't come from a place of being brainwashed or radicalized. The life cycle from beginning to end came so gradually that I could easily see why religion was the security blanket Afaf needed to turn her life around.

I wish I would have had the intelligence to highlight it when I came across it, but there were some lines in the book to the effect that women are given more hardships in life because they have the strength to get through them. (Men don't.) I loved how the story was not only educational for me (I love learning about other cultures), but also a coming of age story in a sense as well. I loved witnessing everything through Afaf's eyes and was glad it was told from her perspective alone.

The two *slight* criticisms I have are: 1) Nada's storyline (that's all I'm going to say) and 2) the scenes in present day that deal with the school shooting. With the school shooting, I didn't feel as 'in the moment' as I would have liked. I think some of that is because the present day scene was broken up in several pieces. This caused me to lose a lot of intensity that normally would transpire when reading a scene like that. I don't disagree with how it was done though necessarily, I think it could be said that Afaf had her life flash before her eyes during this experience and we were witnessing her reliving everything. Despite my slight criticism, it was still very well done. It's awful to say, but you can't even point to type casting with having the role of the shooter be a radicalized white male because those are the statistics. This is the world we live in. That and how horrible some people are to those that choose to where a hijab, or worship differently than we do.

Thank you for sticking around this long if you did and I hope this very long review encourages you to read the book. I can't wait to discuss it and I look forward to the author's next work.

Thank you to Netgally, W.W. Norton & Company and Sahar Mustafah for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review.

Review Date: 04/14/2020
Publication Date: 04/07/2020
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The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Sahar Mustafah has now followed her prize-winning short story collection, Code of the West (2017), with The Beauty of Your Face, her stunning first novel.

As the book opens, Principal Afaf Rahman goes about her busy school day dealing with a parent’s objections to a required reading assignment, asking her assistant for the names of the student ambassadors to the next week’s interfaith summit meeting, recalling how her daughter, now a senior, and two friends started the school’s Amnesty International chapter, and taking a private prayer break in an old confessional, the Islamic school’s surviving relic from its early days as a Benedictine convent, Our Lady of Peace.    

Through the confessional’s ceiling vent, Principal Rahman listens to the show choir rehearsing for its spring concert, but music and prayer are soon disrupted by what she believes to be a firecracker thrown onto the school grounds by yet another protester of the Nurrideen School for Girls.  As the popping intensifies and thudding sounds hit the floor, she realizes someone has opened fire in the music room overhead. The Nurridean School for Girls is not Our Lady of Peace.

The novel then shifts to 1976.  Afaf Rahman is an unhappy ten-year-old girl in a poor Palestinian immigrant family, which includes her parents, older sister Nada, and younger brother Majeed.  Mustafah successfully switches back and forth between chapters titled “Nurridean School for Girls,” which dramatize the shooting and Principal Afaf Rahman’s face-to-face encounter with the shooter and several sets of chapters designated by dates:  1976, 1985, 1993, 2002, and  “Here and Now.”   
In the earlier dated sections, readers witness the gradual disintegration of a family, hastened but not entirely caused by the mysterious disappearance of Afaf’s older sister.  One by one, Afaf, her father, and her mother hit a personal low.  After years as a “lost child” in a family and culture that fails to accept her, Afaf discovers places where she fits in, people with whom she feels at home.  
Just as everything seems to be going well, life changes yet again, both within the family and with the tragic arrival of the school shooter

Sahar Mustafah draws readers in with an immigrant family’s challenges and efforts to achieve acceptance and find peace in the face of poverty, bigotry, and hatred.  She gives the world a gift with her creation of Afaf, who won’t give up trying to understand the shooter.

Many thanks to W. W. Norton, NetGalley, and the author for an Advance Reader Copy of this touching and suspenseful book.  “For those struck down by hate, your stories still keep you among us.”—Sahar Mustafah
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This is a skillfully written, well told story about race and religion in America. However it is HEAVY and traumatic and might not be for a good match for some readers. I had a hard time staying with it for those reasons. We follow Afa, the principal for a Muslim school for girls. When a shooter enters the school, we travel with Afa back to her childhood, then through her life, as she remembers the traumas she has experienced and the religious persecution she has faced. The book goes back and forth between past and present, which was jarring at times. The writing is vivid and emotional, she creates intense scenes that are easy to imagine. I recommend this for readers of literary fiction who don't mind a heavy, despairing story.
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A powerful book about a young girl, Afaf, who finds religion and how it helps her navigate the setbacks in her life.
The Beauty of Your Face starts in the present and builds the background of each character by showing us their past.  Afaf's story is affective; written in a clear prose that invokes many feelings in a reader.  There are many topics that this book flushes out; racism, diaspora, exclusion, mob mentality, religion, and what it means to be an "American."
I felt that this book gave an in depth look at what it is like to be Muslim in the American culture and some of the adversities that are encountered in everyday situations.
The Beauty of Your Face takes us through a gripping and sobering look at what it means to sacrifice, forgive, and love.

Thank you Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Sometimes I find it hard to truly rate how I feel about a story with such serious topics such as shootings and race. Because the topics are so sensitive, I often veer towards a kinder rating. Not a true rating. With The Beauty of Your Face, I decided that I was going to be honest despite the subject matter. While the story was very enlightening, I found it very average and honestly a little forgettable.

This was like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of books. You get this intense introduction to the school shooting situation. It is engaging and frightening. And then we take off in this other unexpected direction of finding religion. The story of Afaf growing up and into adulthood was almost the entire story. Afaf’s story was interesting. It is the first story that I’ve read with the Palestinian culture where the family was not religious, and the children had freedom. In that way, it was new and exciting. But the school shooting angle was less than 10% of the story. Which was an interesting choice since it was the first thing mentioned in the synopsis.

Briefly, I will mention one thing that I really liked and one that I did not since I can’t remember all the details. I’ve only known stories with the Palestinian families that were incredibly religious being the first generation to come to America. Witnessing Afaf’s journey was fresh and interesting experience especially when they journeyed to the homeland. That was something that I never knew about which is why I truly love picking up novels about cultures outside my own. As for my bad. I will simply say that I found myself disagreeing with how the author handled some sensitive subjects. Plain and simple.

In all honesty, I would not recommend this story to anyone. I just finished this story on March 28ht. I am writing this review on April 7th and I honestly can’t remember much about it. That says quite a bit to me. It was simply an okay story.

Thank you NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company for approving my request.
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This is terrific! Although this opens with a shooter in a school for Muslim girls, it's really the story of a family.   Afaf is the younger daughter of a Palestinian American family.  When her sister Nada goes missing, all bets are off.  Her mother spins into distress, her father begins to drink, and eventually Afaf makes poor choices with regard to sex with boys.  Her father's DUI, however, brings them both back to Islam and changes their lives immeasurably.  It isn't easy for Afaf to wear the hijab but she finds her faith and future.  Although her family continues to struggle (with the exception of her brother Majeed), Afaf eventually becomes a teacher,  marries Bilal, raises her family, and then becomes the principal of the School.  She's a terrific, relatable character, as are the others (including the shooter).  Mustafah uses the shooting more as a framework- there are no graphic scenes- and keep the focus on Afar.  It's beautifully written, carefully plotted, and will make you think.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A must read!
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The Beauty of Your Face begins as Afaf Rahman walks away from her office at the Nurrideen Schoolofor Girls, a Muslim school. She slips away to a small room that years ago was a confessional when the building was originally a nunnery. This is where Afaf goes to do her morning prayers in private, but on this day, her prayers are interrupted by the terrifying sound of gunfire. This opening might lead you to believe that this is a story about a school shooting, but really it’s not. There is a school shooting and that plays a role in Afaf’s story, but The Beauty of Your Face is just that. Afaf’s story.

Afaf was born the second child of Palestinian immigrants. Her parents, much older sister and younger brother lived in a small apartment in the Chicago area. Their’s was not a happy family, nor were they a religious family. Their father was a drunk who cheated on their mother. Their mother was a deeply unhappy woman who desperately wanted to return to Palestine. The three kids got by, supporting each other, until that fell apart, too. At 10-years old, Afaf’s older sister vanished, just vanished.

“Afaf squeezes in and out of spaces, trying not to make noise around the apartment and at school. But Nada is bold and fearless. So different from her. So different from Mama.”

Now, you might think I’ve told you the whole story, but you’d be wrong. All I’ve shared is really just the set up for this beautiful character-driven story about Afaf, the life she led inside her very damaged family, and the journey that finally took her off the sad path her parents had put her on.

“Still her mother pines for the ones who are gone – Nada, Majeed – denying her and Baba, the ones who have stayed.”

The Beauty of Your Face has been one of my favorite books this year, but I know it won’t be for everyone. It started off a little slowly, but the further I read the more I cared about Afaf and the more I wanted to know how she could have ended up in that closet. Within the writing, you’ll find quite a bit of Arabic, often not translated. In the beginning this bothered me, but soon I realized I didn’t need an official translation. I could interpret the sentiment on my own. If those two small facts won’t bother you then this is a book well worth your time. Debut author Sahar Mustafah told a wonderful story and I loved the structure, each chapter ending with just a glimpse of what was happening back at the school. The Beauty of Your Face was the second book on this year’s Spring Preview and it was my second A book. Let’s hope the rest can live up to this high bar! Grade: A

Note: I received a copy of this book from W.W. Norton Company (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.
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all my thoughts and feelings on this book are linked hr: https://youtu.be/bLFd_yu9uds and below. Thank you to the publishers and net galley for this earc
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Mustafah does a wonderful job in showing the ways in which teenage girls seek identity (or identities) in ways that remain opaque to those around them.  She also tells a nuanced story of a family in which the members remain unknown to each other, even to the end.  The novel itself creates the very empathetic experience its own characters are seeking.
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Thank you to NetGalley and W.W. Norton and Company for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Available April 7th!

Whew, Sahar Mustafah's "The Beauty of Your Face" is definitely a heavy piece. The story begins as Afaf Rahman, a second generation Palestinian American, finds herself at the mercy of a school shooter at her all girls Muslim American school in Chicago. It is a situation that is all too real for the millions of Muslim Americans today and Mustafah did a brilliant job of describing the large and small ways Islamophobia seeps through American life. I absolutely adored her writing, just tense enough to keep the reader always wanting a little bit more! The only thing that was slightly confusing was the way the story seemed to flip back and forth between the protagonist's current moment and her past life. 

Definitely worth the hype!
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The Beauty of Your Face is a timely novel that touches on some "hot button" issues. But are so important and this novel presents it from a side that I think many people don't get to hear from very often. I had a difficult time putting this book down. Sahar Mustafah has written a beautiful masterpiece that is sure to receive high praise when it is released.
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This is a haunting and beautiful book about so many things -- family, faith, prejudice, community and what they mean to each of us. It tells the story of Afaf, the second daughter in a Muslim family over the course of her life, including her eventual role as principal of an all-girls Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. I love reading about the experiences of women from different cultures and of different faiths than my own. I visited Saudi Arabia for work several years ago and more recently visited a mosque as part of a community foundation's civic engagement project. In both cases, I found the Muslim women to be devout, strong, articulate and confident -- and not at all constrained by their faith as so many perceive. I really recommend this book -- even if the themes do not appeal to you, it is so well-written and thoughtful. Highly recommended.
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I had the delight of being introduced to this book by one of my blogger friends. I also love to read books by author's with different ethnic backgrounds. I think it gives a unique voice to a culture that would otherwise go untold. I believe it is extremely important to read books by a wide, diverse range of authors.. I think as a reader, it gives me a broader view and makes me more well-read. I also am better able to recommend books to my customers who are looking for books told from a unique viewpoint or culturally diverse books.

This book tells the story of a Palestinian-American woman who faces a startling and all-too-real challenge we are facing in this country: school shootings. This book reminded me of Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolitto. If you like books that unravel as the pages turn, The Beauty of Your Face is definitely up your alley. 

This is a chilling novel and one that I highly recommend.
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