Today I am EXTREMELY excited to have had the opportunity to invite Aamna again to Misty Realms! She has written three wonderful books: THE LADY OR THE LION, THE MAN OR THE MONSTER, AND WHEN A BROWN GIRL FLEES (2023)
Today we are going to chat specifically about when a brown girl flees! So I hope you enjoy learning more about the book. Also this interview includes the first chapter of WABGF for FREE at the end of the post, so stay tuned : )
When a Brown Girl Flees by Aamna Qureshi
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.
Find and pre-order When a Brown Girl Flees on:
Interview with Aamna Qureshi
Hi Aamna!! Welcome back to Misty Realms could you please (re)introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your soon to be published novel When a Brown Girl Flees?
Hi Kashvi! Thank you so much for having me. When a Brown Girl Flees is about a teenage girl who runs away from home in order to find herself! It’s a journey of healing and finding your place in the world that will appeal to fans of All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir, Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, and A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.
When a Brown Girl Flees is your first contemporary novel, could you please share the inspiration behind it, and a bit about how the writing process was with our readers?
When I was a little kid, I had my little princess backpack set with my pajamas, a mini water bottle, and snacks, ready to run away whenever my family members upset me (I was a very dramatic child). My grand plan was to go to my grandparents’ house, but as a seven year old, I didn’t think of any of the logistics because I knew I would obviously never really do it. But just the idea of running away intrigued me, like a story waiting to be written.
Then when I got older, I kept going back to that idea: what if I ran away? Not me, exactly, because luckily circumstances have never been such that I would need to run away, but someone like me. I had always seen stories in the media of kids running away, but it was never someone from my specific background: Muslim or Pakistani American or a child of immigrants.
I was really fascinated about what her specific story would look like. A brown girl, running away. So I began with that, then considered, okay, well, why did she run away? What was she going through that forced her to leave? Because a brown girl won’t just run away over a small thing; it would be the complete last resort. And when she does run away, what would that look like? Plus, if she does eventually return home, what would the reconciliation look like?
Basically, the whole book was inspired by these sorts of questions, which I found very compelling and which are all answered in the book!
Zahra Paracha is so dear to my heart! What was the process like in shaping/creating a character like her?
I’m so happy to hear that! She is very dear to me, too, especially because I first wrote her story in the spring of 2016, and WABGF was actually the first novel I wrote! So in a way, Zahra is my first child, and it’s been a long journey getting her publication ready. Creating her character was incredibly challenging at times because I really, really had to dig deep into these difficult emotions and circumstances that she was going through and try to help her find herself.
What I love most about Zahra is that no matter how difficult things are or how scared she is, she is determined to survive and not only survive, but thrive. Even when she feels like giving up and just ending it all, she still pushes through to create a life for herself. She clings to the hope that things can and will be better, and she works at it until they are.
In WABGF Zahra’s journey of finding ‘home’, and most importantly, herself is so beautifully depicted. How was your experience with conveying these important themes with nuance and care?
I’m glad it came across well! Because this book deals with a lot of sensitive topics, I really wanted to handle everything with nuance, and to accomplish that, I basically spent a lot of time just thinking about Zahra and her journey. I really put myself in her shoes, which was painful at times, since she’s been through so much, but I think forcing myself to see the world through her eyes—keeping in mind her history and experiences—helped me to carefully craft this story with the attention it needed.
I also did countless reads and edits, as well as sent it to many readers for feedback and outside perspectives, and I think each round over the past seven years helped me polish this story to become the very best it could be.
If there was one lyric from any of your favorite songs that you could assign to WABGF, what would it be?
A song that I listened to on repeat when drafting was “You Are Enough” by Sleeping at last and the lyric I kept hearing was: “You’re enough, you’re enough, you’re enough, you are enough; these little words somehow they’re changing us.”
A huge struggle for Zahra is trying to see and understand that no matter her mistakes, she is enough, so I just love this song, and this lyric in particular, how internalizing those little words can change everything.
For our readers that do not know her yet, could you write a response from the perspective of Zahra introducing herself!
So in the beginning of the book, Zahra would very much be stumped as to how to introduce herself because she starts off as so lost; she doesn’t really know herself. But by the end of the book, she would very happily be saying, “Salaam! Hi!! I’m Zahra! Are you new here? I was, too, a few months ago, but don’t worry at all! It’s such a wonderful community and everyone is sooooo nice. Have you met Haya? And her sister Sadaf? Come on, I’ll introduce you! They’re the best!!”
There is a lot of healing and self discovery in WABGF, could you please elaborate on the families you have incorporated into your book?
There are two main families in WABGF: the Parachas, Zahra’s family that she runs away from, and the Chaudrys, a family she meets when she arrives in New York. The Chaudrys are a loving, loud, affectionate family, whereas the Parachas are disjointed, strict, and can be cruel at times.
The purpose of writing two main families was so that they could juxtapose one another. The Chaudrys help Zahra see how a family could be and how maybe she wasn’t treated the best by the Parachas. I also think it’s important to show range when portraying Muslim families and to show nuance when portraying problematic behaviors so as not to fall into negative stereotypes. I know we’re all sick of the typical Muslim stories where they hate their religion and hate their oppressive families, so I was very mindful of that when writing this book.
Another important thing I wanted to portray in my book is that family is not stagnant; people can change. This is something that Zahra learns and is a huge part of her healing journey. She realizes that even though families can be awful, if they are willing to change and do better, they are still worth holding on to.
That is it! Thank you so much for visiting again Aamna <3 Is there something else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for having me and for such thoughtful questions! I had a blast <3
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF WHEN A BROWN GIRL FLESS BELOW!
Aamna Qureshi is a Pakistani, Muslim American who adores words. 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 bed-time, writing stories in the backs of her notebooks, and being scolded by teachers for passing chapters under the tables. Through her writing, she wishes to inspire a love for the beautiful country and rich culture that informed much of her identity.
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 on IG @aamna_qureshi and Twitter @aamnaqureshi_.
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Thank you so much Aamna for visiting again and taking your time to do this interview for Misty Realms, I had a wonderful time chatting about When a Brown Girl Flees !!!