Hana Khan Carries On is set in Toronto in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana's family runs the Three Sisters Biryani Poutine halal restaurant. Things are a bit slow and and the announcement of a new halal restaurant opening up on the same street is very worrisome. Hana is happy to work with her family, but her real dream is to tell stories - on the radio.
The book opens with a entry from Hana's podcast and an exchange of messages with a listener. I love epistolary elements and these are continued throughout the book. Her 'mission statement' for the podcast is thought provoking. "What do you want out of life? What do we owe the people we love? How do our histories and stories influence who we become? And how do you know that the thing you want is actually the thing you want?"
The other thing that struck me was the obvious love this family has for each other. I have to say I had a soft spot for visiting cousin Rashid, but every player in the supporting cast has their own story. The standout character is Hana herself. She is wonderfully drawn - her voice, her hopes and dreams, her struggles to be true to herself, her values, her community and her faith had me caring so much about her. Hana's voice is real.
But, let's not forget romance. Remember that competing halal restaurant? Well, the new owner is quite attractive, but thoroughly annoying - and he's trying to put the Three Sisters Biryani Poutine out of business. Still...there's an attraction there....
Jalaluddin is such a clever wordsmith. I couldn't stop turning pages - I was totally caught up in the lives of each and every character, their past, their present and their future. The rom-com thread will have you hoping things end up the 'right' way, there's lots of light hearted humour, but also a serious look at reality. The hate crimes perpetrated against Hana, her friends and community are sadly based in truth. And the treatment she receives at her workplace is shameful.
Just a fabulous read and highly recommended. I'm off to hunt down a copy of Jalaluddin's first book, Ayesha at Last. And I will be eagerly waiting for her third! (Maybe more Rashid?!)
See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Hana Khan Carries On. (And this book would make a great film!)