Books & Literature

Book Review: Sunburnt Veils, by Sara Haghdoosti

YOUNG ADULT: Girl meets boy, ghosts his text messages, then convinces him to help her run for the student union. Just your typical love story with a hijabi twist.

A refreshing read that speaks to the heart and pulls tired stereotypes to pieces.

Sunburnt Veils follows the story of Tara, a kind, book-loving, Muslim med student who wears a hijab. When she encounters vile acts of racism and discrimination on campus, she decides to stand up for herself and for people like her. She chooses to become her own hero by running for student union. 

The central plotline features Tara’s journey to the union election, but there are quite a few surprising twists and turns along the way. Readers can expect refreshingly real female friendship that melts the heart, a few upsetting and confronting scenes, and most importantly, an idea of what it’s like to be the target of racism.   

Sara Haghdoosti’s feel-good story makes you feel warm and hopeful, showing that despite disheartening acts of cruelty and ignorance, this world does indeed have many more decent people than bad ones. It’s inspiring to read about a proactive main character like Tara, who saves her own day rather than waiting for a man—or a white character—to do it for her. 

Along with the kickass protagonist, there’s a whole cast of perfectly imperfect and diverse characters who each come into Tara’s world for a reason. Although racism is the central subject here, the different plights of characters like Tara’s bestie Mitra lead the text to explore homophobia and gender identity. Issues like these are so relevant for the intended YA audience, and society in general. It’s likely that young people from all walks of life will recognise themselves in this work and perhaps feel a little more seen.

Tara’s hijab constantly makes her a target for bigotry throughout the story. Through the fact that her parents don’t want her to wear it, Haghdoosti highlights that, contrary to popular belief in western countries, the hijab is not a symbol of oppression; it is a personal choice. By including Tara’s mother, an Iranian woman who speaks Farsi, is a Partner at a law firm, and doesn’t wear a hijab, the author successfully portrays a woman’s right to choose who she is and how she incorporates religion into her life. The differences between Tara and her mum also reinforce the fact that Muslims are real people with layers and differences—not caricatures who fit a stereotype. 

In between the heavier stuff, the book also contains a romantic subplot that manages to be sweet without overwhelming the story. And while university students looking for a real Alex Jackson on campus might be disappointed, the way Tara and Alex’s relationship plays out is honest, complete with awkward moments, confusing feelings, and freaking out. 

Sunburnt Veils is a quick read with an important message about standing up for what’s right. It inspires readers to take action when the opportunity arises, whether they’re experiencing discrimination themselves or witnessing it happening to others. Through a marvellous cast and a well-planned plot, Haghdoosti manages to dismantle old stereotypes and get the readers to see people as people.  

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: 1 April 2021
RRP: $24.95

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