#OwnVoices Middle Eastern Books To Check Out For Arab American Heritage Month

Marhaba and hello, dear friends! I hope all is well, and if not, I hope brighter days head your way soon!

Well, Indigenous American History Month was back in November, Black History Month was in February, and Women’s History Month was March, but the party isn’t coming to a halt just yet, because this month—April—commemorates yet another part of my heritage and identity! That’s right, dear friends: it’s Arab American Heritage Month! This month we celebrate the rich diversity of the various Arab ethnic groups and the many contributions of Arabs to the US, as well as to the world—from astronomy to algebra to the alphabet! And in celebration, I figured I’d share a bit of my Lebanese culture and top it off with some Middle Eastern book recommendations!

Some background: My mom’s side of the family is from the West Asian Mediterranean Arab country of Lebanon, which sits right on the coast between Syria and Palestine. My family is Maronite, meaning they are members of the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church (based mainly in Lebanon), and my great grandfather—an ambassador—immigrated from Beirut, Lebanon to the US around the turn of the 20th century.

Examples of Lebanese folk dress.

Lebanese people are known for our hospitality, our delicious food (think: hummus, lmao!), and our chic fashion sense (oh–and our beautiful people too, haha! 😉 ). Our traditional folk dance is dabke, and we love to break out into it when given literally any reason, lol!

The basics of Lebanese dabke

Like many Arab cultures, Lebanese people are very community oriented and social. The extended family “clan” unit is the center of your social life, and your close friends are often seen as extensions of your family as well. We also are very expressive—as most Arab cultures are. We are boisterous and speak with our hands a lot, haha!

I could go on forever, but that’s just a glimpse at the Lebanese part of my cultural heritage and identity and hopefully you’re interested in learning more! But let’s move to the book recommendations section!


PLEASE NOTE: I am including books by and about peoples originating from the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region that are not all “Arab” in strict terms What does this mean? Imazighen, Persians, Kurds, etc. They are not Arab, nor do they self-identify as Arab. And I in no way wish to conflate any/all MENA cultures. All of us have beautiful and unique national and sub-national ethnic cultures! Unfortunately, in the US most people from the MENA area (and even some from Central Asia) are often lumped under the term “Arab,” despite the fact that not all of us are ethnically “Arab.” So, when the US designates months like “Arab American Heritage Month,” Persians, Imazighem, Kurds, etc. are simultaneously left out and also lumped into a cultural grouping that they don’t identify with. In this way, the US government erases the unique cultures of MENA and the nuanced experiences we all have in the US, in our countries of origin, and elsewhere. My “temporary solution” to this is to make this post a post including cultures from MENA aside from Arab, but also to make sure you know that those cultures are not the same as Arab. I want you to know those cultures too, to celebrate them as Middle Easterners/North Africans as much as you know of and celebrate Arabs. I hope these books can be a starting point to get you interested in knowing of and celebrating ALL of our beautiful cultures!


the stardust thief by chelsea abdullah

arab (general)

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

The Stardust Thief is actually an upcoming May 2022 release that I am ridiculously excited for! It’s an #OwnVoices Arab fantasy based on multiple stories from 1001 Nights and it sounds AMAZING! I’ve heard rave reviews from readers with ARCs, so I’ve already preordered the audiobook in preparation!

mirage by somaiya daud

moroccan (amazighi)

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Mirage is an intricate and intrigue-filled YA fantasy sci fi that is based off of the author’s own Indigenous Moroccan (Amazighi) culture. With themes of colonialism, interpersonal racism, and political racism, Mirage is definitely a hard-hitting sci fi, while not being incredibly dense. Daud writes about these heavy topics with the delicate nuance required to help readers of all ages understand what they entail without beating the reader over the head. Mirage is definitely a must read to add to your TBR immediately!

this woven kingdom by tahereh mafi

persian

Clashing empires, forbidden romance, and a long-forgotten queen destined to save her people—bestselling author Tahereh Mafi’s first in an epic, romantic trilogy inspired by Persian mythology.

To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.

The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom—and the world.

Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Tomi Adeyemi, and Sabaa Tahir, this is the explosive first book in a new fantasy trilogy from the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author Tahereh Mafi.

This is a recently released YA fantasy by beloved author Tahereh Mafi, and it is based on mythology from Mafi’s own Persian culture. The reviews have been stellar, from what I’ve seen, and this looks like one heck of an epic fantasy (pun intended 😉 )!

darius the great is not okay by adib khorram

persian

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

I’ve heard so many rave reviews for Darius The Great Is Not Okay, ESPECIALLY from Persian American reviewers. In particular, I know that Hannah of the booktube channel A Clockwork Reader and Daria at the booktube channel FullOfLit (both of whom happen to be Persian American) are MASSIVE fans of this book and its sequel, often noting that it really resonated with them and touched their hearts. After hearing so many glowing reviews, this book has definitely slid up on my TBR.

aminah mae safi books

arab (general)

All of Aminah Mae Safi’s books are contemporary novels starring sapphic Arab girls and that fact alone has me cheering! In particular, I’m interested in reading This Is All Your Fault, which is about three teen girls teaming up to save the beloved bookstore they work at.

sara farizan books

persian

Similarly, Sara Farizan’s works are all contemporary novels about queer Persian teens! Fun fact: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel and If You Could Be Mine were the first books I ever became aware of with #OwnVoices sapphic representation, back when I was in high school in the early 2010s. Talk about Sara Farizan being ahead of a trend! Truthfully, I rarely hear from other readers about Farizan’s works, but when I do, it’s all glowing reviews! I definitely can’t wait for the day I pick one of these lovely books up!

habibi by naomi shihab nye

arab (palestinian)

An award-winning novel about identity, family, and friendship from renowned writer and editor Naomi Shihab Nye.

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family’s Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers and speak a language she can’t understand. It isn’t until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?

This is a special book to me, as it was actually the first ever #OwnVoices Arab American book I’d ever read (I read it back when I was 14 and it’s stuck with me ever since). The story is about a mixed White/Palestinian teen girl who’s grown up in America but her family suddenly decides to move to her father’s homeland of Palestine. It does address themes of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, of course, but it also addresses themes of what it means to be Arab in America versus what it mean to be an Arab in The Middle East and also general themes of religion, identity, and girlhood. The blurb makes it seem like Habibi is very focused on the relationship between Liyanna (the main character) and her friend, an Israeli boy named Omer, but really the book (from what I remember) is more focused on Liyanna’s understanding of her identity as a Palestinian American girl and her relationship to her cultural heritage. In all honestly, I can’t say whether or not this book would hold up today (after all, I read it 13 years ago), but I can say that it will definitely always have a special place in my heart!

So, that’s all for today, dear friends! I’ve had so much fun sharing about part of my cultural heritage and also giving some book recommendations. Happy Arab American Heritage Month and I hope I helped you find a book or two that you might like!

spill the beans, friends

  • Have you read any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts?
  • Are any of these books on your TBR?

Posted by

Lila is a 27-year-old college student studying physics and a lover of literature. When she's not busy reading or saving the world through science, Lila can be found singing jazz and blues and obsessing over hedgehogs (a.k.a. the cutest animals in the multiverse!)

12 thoughts on “#OwnVoices Middle Eastern Books To Check Out For Arab American Heritage Month

  1. I desperately want The Stardust Thief as well – IT SOUNDS SIMPLY AMAZING! 🤩 I mean, epic fantasy, 1001 Nights and a criminal main character? I need it!!!

    Also, I love that you went into such detail about your cultural background and included images and that video! I always love learning about things like that, so this post was right up my alley! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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