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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Twins on Thursday: An Infidel in Paradise by S.J. Laidlaw

"The Twins on Thursday" is reserved for the Twins' joint reviews. It is a special feature of our blog that discusses books that we either both like, dislike, or have mixed feelings about. This is also the day where we post reviews for books (and ARCs/Galleys) that have been sent to us by authors/galley sites/publishing houses. And because we don't believe much in uniformity, we'll be trying to mix things up a bit by adding random stuff in relation to our review (well, mostly for books we purchased anyway).

Title: An Infidel in Paradise
Author: S. J. Laidlaw
Format Acquired: eARC
Publication Date: February 12 2013
Publishing House: Tundra Books (Random House)
ISBN: 9781770493049
Source of Copy: NetGalley


Set in Pakistan, this is the story of a teen girl living with her mother and siblings in a diplomatic compound. As if getting used to another new country and set of customs and friends isn't enough, she must cope with an increasingly tense political situation that becomes dangerous with alarming speed. Her life and those of her sister and brother depend on her resourcefulness and the unexpected help of an enigmatic Muslim classmate.

 (Image, summary, and other information courtesy of Goodreads)


Emma's life is in upheaval; after her father left them to live in Boracay with their maid, her mother uproots them from their cushy life in Manila and transplants them to Pakistan for a chance to start over. It's not easy for Emma to get used to her new surroundings; she has to deal with her parents' separation, the growing distance between her siblings and herself, and being the new girl in school.

Emma is your typical teenage girl. She's suffering from teenage angst, loneliness and the pressure of being a foreigner in a hostile country - she just feels so out of place. She misses her friends and her life back in Manila, and severs all contact with them. She's afraid to make new ones because she has this mindset that given her mother's occupation, there is no telling when and where they'll be the next day. We know how hard it is to have undergone something truly life-changing, only to be overwhelmed by a new environment; it's not pretty. But then Emma meets Mustapha, this handsome, charismatic boy whom she at first, got on the wrong foot with by blurting out racist comments about Pakistan. It doesn't take long, however, for Emma and Mustapha to patch up and end up liking each other. However, add to the fact that Emma and Mustapha share kisses and longing looks, Mustapha is betrothed to another - Aisha. She is initially snarky, snobbish, and basically a spoiled brat all around, but when Emma gets to know a different side of her, exudes generosity,  and kindness.  The secondary characters - a mix of local and foreign folk - provide us with interesting cultural differences and shows us how something as simple as a kiss is treated in societal norms. We enjoyed the multi-cultural setting and it was interesting seeing things from Emma's point of view. Seeing Emma learn to accept her circumstances and be swept away by the magic of the culture was truly endearing.

Another thing we personally enjoyed was Emma's viewpoint of Manila. Not a lot of books - especially young adult ones - feature Manila as a backdrop, so we have no idea how foreigners truly view Manila. Besides from being the place where her family was last complete, Emma sounds like she's actually very enamored with the city. Her perception of Manila is so different from our perception of our own city that at times, it doesn't seem to be the same Manila at all - and we like it. It's nice to know that both the author and Emma seem to transcend beyond the usual perception of Manila. It reminded us that Manila isn't just a violent city filled with drug lords and gang members, but an actual, breathing city that is capable of loving its own citizens.

Our only issue with this one was that what transgressed between Emma and Mustapha seemed to be insta-love. After exchanging a lot of heated looks, short conversations, and a kiss or two, Emma's worries about marriage, and Mustapha's declaration of the three words only seemed to confirm our suspicions. It would have been nicer if their relationship was fully fleshed out. But then, these are teenagers, and while we aren't saying that teenagers aren't capable of being truly in love, we just think that this is the time where a lot of adolescents are confused about their feelings as well. So while the author may have delved into what teenagers perceive as love, Laidlaw also somehow reminds us that not every relationship will work out, despite the chemistry and (dare we say it?) love.

The climax left us feeling a little short-changed, the pace towards the end a bit hurried, and the ending a bit abrupt. But despite its shortcomings, An Infidel in Paradise may charm you with its delightful cultural nuances.


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