What is Monster Child about?
The book is based on the Afshar family and told from the perspective of the three self-proclaimed “monster” children: Beh, Shabnam, and Alif. It’s appropriate for Grades 11 and 12, and deals with race, racism, sexual assault, and Islamophobia. After the loss of a family member, family secrets are revealed, and the children are left to deal with traumas that happen within the immigrant community.
Aside from monstrosity, blood is also a major theme in the novel. For Beh, blood flows out of her as a result of sexual abuse. For Shabnam, she has a magical gift of crying blood. And, for Alif, he is left questioning his own blood.
Why did you decide to write this book?
As an Afghan-Canadian, I wrote Monster Child because I wanted Afghan readers to be seen and heard. I was two when my family and I immigrated to Canada. Growing up, I don’t recall studying any books written by Afghan authors (except for The Kite Runner). And now with the situation in Afghanistan, Afghan voices are more crucial than ever. Our voices and stories need to be heard.
Afghans are often misrepresented in the media. A lot of common narratives we see surrounding Afghanistan portray Afghan women as submissive and Afghan men as oppressive and violent. Such misrepresentations need to be addressed in classrooms.
As an author and educator, I truly believe the best way to combat stereotypes is through books. Monster Child gives readers a chance to learn about traumas that occur within the immigrant experience through the eyes of teenagers. The book offers an insight into Afghan culture by including stories, meals, prayers, and cultural and gender-based expectations. A glossary of Dari words is also included.
What aspects of your own life helped inspire the book?
Like many immigrants, I experienced racism from a young age. These stories and experiences were incorporated into the novel. For example, the Afshar family encountered discrimination and prejudice with the opening of their family restaurant, The Afghan Nomad. My family also struggled with similar experiences with the opening of our family business, The Silk Road Cafe. This sense of shame in one’s culture and the need to belong was an important aspect of my childhood and early adulthood.
Finally, as a Muslim, I’ve had to deal with Islamophobia my entire life. Having a mother and sister who both wear the hijab, it was important that I address the role of women in Islam and the Afghan culture.
What do you hope your students will learn from this book?
Monster Child deals with themes that can be difficult for readers to process and can even be triggering for some readers. The passages on 13-year-old Beh’s sexual assault are detailed and vivid. Although these topics are difficult, it is important that we discuss them. This can only be done if teachers create a safe environment for such discussions to take place and ensure supports are in place for students who need them.
As educators, we need to dispel myths (such as “boys will be boys”) and victim-blaming when discussing such topics. I want students to understand that people of all gender identities can be victims of sexual abuse. This book also creates opportunities to discuss how terms such as “survivor” and “victim” are problematic.