G. Willow Wilson is the author of an acclaimed memoir, The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam (Grove, 2010). She has also published graphic novels with illustrator M.K. Perker, including Cairo (2008) and the Air series (2009-2011).
Alif the Unseen, in her own words, “represents the moment at which I said “screw it” and did away with the artificial boundaries between the things I love and love to talk about–pop culture, religion, digital politics–and wrote from my guts.” (from her interview on Largehearted Boy)
On the book’s website, she writes about about sitting down to write this book in a kind of rage. “By this point, I’d spent years being frustrated by two things: one, the fact that I was so often forced to speak to my three primary audiences (comic book geeks, literary NPR types, and Muslims) separately … The second thing was the mainstream media’s insistence that blogging and social media were no big deal and politically would amount to nothing, especially in the developing world.” Obviously, this was before the Arab Spring.
Alif the Unseen is also about the power of stories, magic, and hacking. Send your teens to the Create-a-Genie contest, but hurry. The deadline is less than a week away!
Adult/High School–Alif is a grey hat, the kind of hacker whose computer coding exploits and manipulations, while often self-serving, are guided by an ethical dedication to a greater good. Anonymous online except for his screen name, Alif possesses a reputation as a genius at foiling and nimbly avoiding the surveillance of the all-powerful head of state security, known as The Hand. When his girlfriend leaves him for a wealthy new boyfriend, a jealous Alif hacks her computer and installs code that will track her online presence but mask his own from her. He is unaware that her new boyfriend is none other than The Hand, who learns of Alif’s program and uses it to ferret out and imprison the hackers who threaten the stability of the emirate. The Hand is fiercely determined to find and destroy Alif. With the help of a chador-clad and devout Muslim friend, a formidably frightful djinn, and a wise but weary imam, Alif avoids his enemy. His narrow escapes are a sometimes manic romp through the contemporary, historic, and mythical Islamic world as he tries to solve the puzzle of an ancient mystical text he is sure will either save or destroy humanity. What he learns is that the answer to the puzzle lies in his clueless heart. In her first narrative novel, graphic novelist Wilson displays the world-building imagination of William Gibson and the creative whimsy of Neil Gaiman in a setting that evokes the Arab Spring. Teen readers will be captivated by this unique and rich novel.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY