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In These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany, uni besties Malak, Kees, and Jenna live between traditional Muslim lives (massive weddings, nosy aunties, rules of modesty) and modern student lives. They have each other, though, which makes navigating two worlds easier. It's a complicated tension between the two worlds, where both sides have advantages, it's not an easy choice for any of them. I liked that the Malak also wanted the traditional Muslim wedding, even if she didn't fully want the rest of the lifestyle. Sorting out what each woman honestly wants, when she's not being pressured, is the heart of this story.
This is very much a British Muslim story, but anyone with two cultures in their family can easily relate to it. Pretty sure everyone with immigrant parents or grandparents has wanted to join in with something her peers were doing, but that shocked her family. Some outfit or activity that was normal for her classmates, but isn't appropriate for good _______ girls. Some of the other family themes, like not wanting to disappoint parents, or dealing with nosy relatives are pretty universal.
Some of the conflicts really did feel impossible, at times. Sometimes it seemed like there was no way to reconcile the lives their parents expected with the partners and lives the three women want, and sometimes even no way to figure what she really wanted herself. But other times, the women are able to live with a technicality or a selective application of a religious rule, which created interested situations in the story.
As Malak, Kees, and Jenna mature and choose different paths, their friendship becomes strained. This feels realistic, because your bestie making the opposite choice can feel like a rejection of your choice. Their friendship, which seemed effortless in college, gets complicated and twisted over the years, but their affection for each other doesn't end.
Kees' rich, white, Catholic boyfriend is romance-novel perfect, which made me roll my eyes a bit at first. Someone Malak gets involved with is almost too evil to be believed, which made it harder to connect to that part of the story. (I have trouble following any romance storylines while shouting DUMP HIM at the characters.) Some of the secondary characters in general felt slightly flat, but then it became clear to me that the trio's blood relatives and romantic partners are secondary to their friendship, so of course they won't be as fully developed.
There are solid women's fiction themes of friendship, marriage, and family conflict in These Impossible Things. Although some parts of the culture were completely unfamiliar for me, the strong, complicated friendship makes it a very relatable storyline with a moving ending.