Take It Back, Kia Abdullah: A Review
I was excited to get approved for this title. I saw it discussed on BookEnds Literary on Twitter (one of the most surprising places I've gotten book recommendations) and couldn't wait to dive in. Zara Kaleel leaves her high-paying barrister position to work for Artemis House, a rape crisis center, following a failed arranged marriage where she is shamed for her actions. Existing on pills, alcohol, and physical relationships, she is thrust into the spotlight when Jodie, a white, disabled girl, claims she was raped by four Muslim boys in her class. Take It Back follows the events leading up to the trial, where perception is skewed and we're forced to question everyone. Let me start by saying: it is refreshing to find a thriller that is culturally diverse, that explores the nuances of religion, community, and gender from Zara, a Muslim woman's, point of view. We see her struggle with her desire to live her own life when her family wants her to follow tradition. A woman can be shamed for any number of reasons: dressing too risque, having a high-power job, speaking her opinion, having relations with someone not her husband, and here--defending the accuser when the accused are four Muslim boys from the community. Zara's precarious position puts her in the middle of some pretty painful fallout, and she fights to find her footing, oftentimes questioning whether she's doing the right thing while the media slanders her character and her community and family shun her. The plot itself is also gripping in its execution. Following the accusation, investigation, trial, and verdict, we see the process unravel, which allows us to form our own opinions of guilt and innocence. I love stories that put us in the jury seat, and Abdullah did a wonderful job creating tension and doubt with every character. From the beginning, we see everyone close to her doubt Jodie's claims. On the opposite end of the spectrum, race is front and center in the discussion, and the discrimination the four boys' experience is played out in the media (of course they did this horrible deed, they're brown and should face the consequences). Zara herself questions her client more than once, a fact I found interesting because so often in reality, we question victims, dissecting their wardrobes and behavior instead of believing their stories. By the harrowing conclusion of the trial, however, you're really not sure who to believe. I really liked most of this book, loved parts of it, and found it to be an interesting critique on gender and race in rape cases and overarching society biases. I thought it got a bit preachy at times for my liking, with plenty of sweeping claims about women's experiences that felt a little too soap boxy. Toning them down might have made them more powerful for me, as I appreciated the points Abdullah was making, but just fell on the side of heavy handed. Overall, I'd recommend this to anyone who loves courtroom dramas, high profile cases, contemporary thrillers with important issues, or, really, anyone looking for a good suspense with unreliable narrators. Take It Back is a timely, gripping thriller you won't want to miss. Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.