The Victim: A sixteen year old girl with facial deformities, neglected by an alcoholic mother. Who accuses the boys of something unthinkable.
The Defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hardworking immigrant families. All with corroborating stories.
Whose side would you take?
Zara Kaleel one of London’s brightest young legal minds, shattered the expectations placed on her by her family and forged a glittering career at the Bar. All before hanging up her barristers wig to help the victims who need her most. Victims like Jodie Wolfe.
Jodie’s own best friend doesn’t even believe her claims that their classmates carried out such a crime. But Zara does. And Zara is determined to fight for her.
Jodie and Zara become the centre of the most explosive criminal trial of the year, in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel she becomes even more determined to get Jodie the justice she’s looking for. But at what price?
Where to start with this review. It is a very complex multilayered story so brilliantly written that it just goes round in your head. It’s not just a courtroom drama, or a psychological thriller, it’s so much more. It shows how society reacts to ugly divisions and prejudice that’s happening around the world in society today, this could easily be an article we pick up and read in a daily newspaper, incorporating disabilities, race, religion, politics, class. But the story is so well woven around every character in the book. You get so engrossed you just don’t want this book to end.
Jodie is a 16 year old girl who has severe facial disfigurements. She has had an awful life being bullied and name called for as long as she can remember. But at times she comes across as a very strong girl a survivor in a cruel world. Then other times you feel such empathy for her as she seems so broken. All she wants is to be loved. Her own mother an alcoholic doesn’t even like or love her own daughter, she is as bad as the children in the playgrounds would have been as Jodie was growing up. So when Jodie accuses 4 Muslim sixteen year old boys of raping her even her mother calls her a liar and an attention seeker. At no point in the story is her mother there for her. Her best friend Nina turns her back on her and calls her a liar when Jodie tells her what happened on the fateful night of June 27th. Is Nina jealous? Because one of the the accused is Amir Rabbani who Nina has also fancied but he has never shown her any interest. Jodie has had a crush on Amir since primary school and this has never been a secret. Jodie doesn’t tell anyone what happened until nearly a week after the events took place. Why? Jodie is subjected to a lot once the news gets out about the story, the press banging on the door, her mother wondering if she can make some money from selling the story, internet trolls. Making life even harder.
Zara Kaleel a Muslim herself, was a high flying barrister but turned her back on that career to work as a rape counsellor. She had previously agreed with, and went ahead with an arranged marriage which only lasted a very short time. Bringing shame on her family. The story highlights the differences between the men and women in the Muslim community how women are viewed and the difficulties they have. Zara’s father had passed away before she had even had a chance to make up with him, she had always been his favourite from what her mother says, and the fact she had achieved so much. Her brother looks down her and calls her names when she visits home. Her sisters are there for as much as they can be but are repressed and unable to help, or speak openly especially when the brother is there. Zara is not a happy person, she is driven and comes across as very tough and hard, but then you see glimpses of a softer side but they are only very fleeting moments. As a woman and a Muslim she has to work harder. When she takes on Jodie’s case she is accused of many things by the Muslim community because she is representing Jodie, the white girl, against four Muslim boys. Some of the things Zara has to deal with are disturbing and you really feel for her, because she is stuck between a rock and a hard place. In her eyes she is doing her job, if that had been a Muslim girl accusing four white boys I think she would have done exactly the same thing, her job.
We then have the four accused boys Amir Rabbani is a very good looking young man and he knows it, he is very assured for most of the story. He is also the leader of the gang as such, the one the other boys look up to and follow. Hassan Tanweer again comes across as very assured and looks down on women, but is this just his culture, the way these boys are raised to see women as their lesser. Mohammed Ahmed is a follower he goes along with the others because he is scared to a certain extent. Fared Khan he is the only one who was not accused or rape but was watching and did nothing to stop what was happening. But are these boys capable of rape. Or are they just high spirited young boys coming up to manhood. They all come from hardworking immigrant family backgrounds.
The first half of the book is focused on Jodie when she goes to Zara and tells her what happened to her. From then Zara works with her through every step, being there when she goes to the police, visiting the court, explaining what to expect. Zara believes her story, even when Jodie tells the police a slightly different version of events to what she has told her. She still believes her. Jodie has never had anyone on her side before, so this is new to her. We follow the story that Jodie tells, with glimpses of the boys lives intertwined in the chapters. Jodie’s friend Nina’s reaction when she tells her what has happened. She doesn’t believe it and doesn’t stand by her friend at all.
The second half of the book is the trial and it literally feels like you are there. The first half the prosecutors side, the cross examination of Jodie is hard to read, occasional glimpses of the reactions from the jury. You are going back and forth as to who to believe. Is Jodie lying? Has she made it up for attention? Could these boys have done this. Then the defence and the boys behaving like they are all sweet and innocent. Are they?
The reactions outside of the courtroom are as tough as inside when emotions between different cultures erupt. The Muslim community calling Zara a traitor to her religion and many many things more. Other events that happen but I cannot say as they would be spoilers and this is a book you have to read for yourself to actually see the cultural differences.
Then towards the end, the drama escalated further even though you don’t think it is even possible. What will the verdict be? Will anyone come out of this any better than when they went in.
This has to be one of my top books for 2019 and I think it’s one of those books everyone should read to see the difficulties that can be had by different cultures, class and disabilities. How cruel the world can be. Because even though this is a work of fiction as I pointed out earlier in my review this could be something that could easily happen in real life in the society we have today.
I think Kia Abdullah is a writer to watch out for because this is an absolutely brilliant read and can certainly give some of the top names in writing a run for their money. I will be looking out for the next book she writes.
Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer. She has contributed to The Guardian, BBC, and Channel 4 News, and most recently The New York Times commenting on a variety of issues affecting the Muslim community. Kia currently travels the world as one half of the travel blog Atlas & Boots, which receives over 200,000 views per month. kiaabdullah.com