Today we’re pleased to reveal the cover for contemporary YA novel When a Brown Girl Flees by Aamna Qureshi! The cover was illustrated by Kate Forrester and the book was designed by Sheila Smallwood. The book will be released on September 19, 2023 by Lee & Low. Preorder it here and here. Keep scrolling for an exclusive Q&A with the author!
After Zahra Paracha makes a decision at odds with her beliefs, her mother forces Zahra to make an impossible choice about her future. So Zahra runs away. A train and a plane ride later, she finds herself in New York, where she relinquishes her past in favor of a new future. There, she must learn who she is without the marionette strings of control in her mother’s hands. There, she must learn who she wishes to become.
On Long Island, Zahra stays at a bed & breakfast, unsure of her place in the world. Anxious, depressed, and grappling with guilt, she wanders aimlessly. She eventually visits the local masjid, where she is befriended by two sisters and drawn into the welcoming Muslim community there.
It is in this place of safety that Zahra’s healing truly begins—but can she create a home for herself when the foundation is built on lies she’s spun to protect her from the past? When a family friend recognizes her, will everything come crashing down? As Zahra tries to build a life for herself in this new place, the heart of the matter becomes clear: she can’t run away forever. Can she close the rift in her family and truly, fully heal?
In this powerful novel from new voice Aamna Qureshi, a Muslim teen goes on a breathtaking journey to find her home and—more importantly—herself.
Tell us a bit about your journey with this book—where did the idea come from? What were your inspirations?
Two things largely inspired this book. The first is that, like many angsty teenagers, I sometimes fantasized about running away from home. Whenever my parents were (rightfully) strict about something, or any of my three siblings annoyed me, or school was tough, or I felt lonely, I imagined slipping away from my life, as if that might solve my pain. But what you don’t realize when you’re young is that if you run, you take yourself with you, and it doesn’t really solve anything. You can’t run away from yourself—which is something that I (through Zahra) realized and grappled with in this book. The best choice is to confront and work through your emotions, rather than flee from them.
The second thing that inspired me was that I never saw a brown girl in stories about characters running away and was interested to see how that would play out. If someone like me—Muslim, Pakistani-American, daughter of immigrants—were to run away, what would it look like? What would cause her to finally break and flee? Where would she go? What would she do? And if she returned, what would that look like? From all of that curiosity, this book was born. (You’ll have to read the book to find out the answers to these questions!)
If you could send a reading care package to your teenage self, which books would you put in the box?
TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Jesmeen Kaur Deo, which is such a powerful and enjoyable read. Salaam With Love by Sara Sharaf Beg, which is incredibly sweet and cute. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir, which made me sob but I absolutely adored. Also, literally everything by Melina Marchetta.
I would also add some comfort reads I always go back to, like the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, the Hex Hall trilogy by Rachel Hawkins, and the Lockwood and Co series by Jonathan Stroud.
What do you hope readers take away from When A Brown Girl Flees?
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. And forgive.
Life and people are messy, things can be awful and terrible, but it isn’t the end. There is always room for change, for growth, for things and people to get better, to do better. As long as you are alive, there is hope.
Choose life. Choose love.
If anything, what did you include in this book purely for yourself?
From a certain angle, almost everything in this book was written purely for myself; I am a very self-indulgent author. I pulled so many details straight from my own life, carved emotions from my beating heart, and drew characters from my family and friends. One thing in particular that I enjoyed writing was the masjid community Zahra encounters; I was so lucky to have a wonderful Muslim community growing up and wanted to reference that. Another personal aspect I included was Sadaf and Haya’s relationship, which is very much drawn from my relationship with my sister; we are also the best of friends. The bond we have enriches my life, the same way Zahra’s bond with Sadaf and Haya enriches hers.
Another thing I loved writing about was how faith helps Zahra heal and make her life not only livable, but beautiful. It was a true joy to add that in because Islam has such negative portrayals in the media, but I wanted to show a different–and more accurate and truer–side of the religion that has been a guiding light in my life. My hope for this book is that it will be a source of goodness in this world; if it is that for even one person, I will be content.
Aamna Qureshi is a Muslim Pakistani American who adores words. She is the award-winning author of the YA fantasy novel, The Lady or the Lion. She grew up on Long Island, New York, in a very loud household, surrounded by English (for school), Urdu (for conversation), and Punjabi (for emotion). Much of her childhood was spent being grounded for reading past her bedtime and writing stories in the backs of her notebooks. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to new places where she can explore different cultures, or to Pakistan where she can revitalize her roots. She also loves baking complicated desserts, drinking fancy teas and coffees, watching sappy rom-coms, and going for walks about the estate (her backyard). She currently lives in New York. Look for her at aamnaqureshi.com.