Ten Steps to Us, the debut novel by Attiya Khan is a delightful YA novel about Aisha Rashid, a devout hijab-wearing Muslim teen. Aisha has always felt invisible, but when Darren, the hot new boy at school makes it clear that he likes her rather than her pretty and popular best friend Isabelle, she is both surprised and flattered as she really likes him too.
But Darren is not Muslim and so is firmly off limits. But what if he was to convert to Islam? Problem solved – maybe? In order to keep her faith and her identity intact, Aisha devises a ten-step plan to win Darren over to Islam to enable them to be together freely but her decision compromises her more than she ever imagined.
I really enjoyed reading this novel partly it took me back to my own teenage years, where growing up in a Pentacostal Christian household, dating was not allowed especially if it was someone who wasn’t a Christian. And like Aisha, I also was a devout teenager and had similar if not the same crises in faith whenever I had a crush on a boy especially if they liked me back.
I completely understood Aisha’s thought process in devising her ten-step plan to convert Darren, but with my adult eyes I could see how this was not the answer to her situation. However, what I loved about the story was how through her struggle to keep her faith and the boy, Aisha begins to find herself and the young woman she wants to be – not who everyone including her parents, her community, her friends and even Darren want her to be. It’s not without painfully questioning the very things she has been taught her entire life but what’s clear is that the journey of faith is not easy or simple and perhaps neither is it meant to be.
Despite the seemingly ‘heavy’ topics of religion, faith and cultural identity, the novel is surprisingly lighthearted without being lightweight. Ten Steps to Us is told with a lot of humour, sensitivity and heart without shying away from the serious topical issues of how Muslims especially young Muslims are viewed both within and outside the community. As well as learning new things about the Islamic faith, I found it nearly impossible not to be carried away by Aisha’s story, rooting for her all the way while side-eyeing the people who didn’t always treat her very well like her best friend Isabelle. Though a side-eye definitely has to be given to Shafqat Aunty, the family friend who’s intentions may have been for good but her methods were definitely shady!
But above all what’s clear is that Aisha is a typical teenager, with strong emotions and feelings about everything, who just wants to do the right thing according to her faith but soon comes to realise that her own personal values are just valid and important. Something I think everyone in life discovers sooner or later.