Title: You Exist Too Much
Author: Zaina Arafat
Published: 9 June 2020
Summary: When a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity, she begins to realize the differences between men and women. Not only that but the borders that separate her from both her Arab and American culture. The borders that are kept around her her whole life, both physical and mental. This is a story of identity told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East.
I truly wanted to like this book, and it’s not that it was awful nor bad writing or a bad story. There were just certain aspects that either bothered me or rubbed me the wrong way.
First off, Zaina Arafat is an amazing writer. The way she uses words to feel like I’m actually there was wonderful. I’m still obsessed with this line from the first chapter:
In acquiring my gender, I had become offensive.Page 5
I said this before for another book review, but I’m not a fan of flashbacks or switching narrative voices unless they are the chapter breaks. It removes me from the story a bit. There was one part in the book where the flashbacks were from two different times going back and forth, and then when we got back to the present, I had to pause and think what was going on beforehand. It didn’t help that there were no dates or places names to figure out, it was a literal stream of consciousness. I understand this concept to a point, but I felt like the streams of conciseness sometimes took way to long to get to why this particular story was brought up or remembered at this moment.
One of the reasons I was excited about this book was the LGBTQ aspect. The main character (whose name is never told and this frustrates me so much) is bisexual.
In all seriousness, it is awesome that representation was present. I’m all for it. However, can we stop with having bisexuals as cheaters, always needing sex, or having love addictions. I get that there was more to this in the story with family complications, how she was raised, and the clashes between her two cultures. Yet, I felt like there could’ve been other ways to express this without resorting to hurtful and untrue stereotypes.
With the main character, I didn’t feel connected to her in any way. I did keep reading, obviously, cause I wanted to see if she would be better. But I didn’t feel like she overcame a whole lot. With how it was written, I never felt connected to her or any of the characters really. The only character I truly was fascinated with was actually her mom.
Okay, so what did I like about the book. I actually really loved the messages Arafat was trying to get across. The whole idea of being stuck between two cultures, being stuck between two identities, being stuck between sexuality (I know that bisexuals are not stuck but with the characters issues this was something that I thought was playing out in the novel). There’s a great passage that does better in explaining all of this than I ever could:
Yet it’s the idiosyncrasies of culture that keep me an outsider, and leave me with a persistent and pervasive sense of otherness, of non-belonging. Basic but nuanced knowledge, the stuff that no one really teaches you. . . . And yet, in the U.S. I’m just as much of an outsider. Even though America is built upon the idea of assimilation, a so-called melting pot, we Arabs stand out. . . . Back then, to be different was simply a bad thing; diversity wasn’t yet something to celebrate, and being white was necessary if not sufficient for coolness. . . . It is a bizarre and unsettling feeling, to exist in a liminal state between two realms, unable to attain full access to one or the other.Pages 143-144
Overall, the book was good, I just had so much excitement for it. I think I hyped it up a bit too much in my mind. I also thought there was a bit more that this book could’ve done. And is it too much to ask to have a name for the main character? I know this is probably done on purpose and aesthetically, narratively sure, fine, I get it. But connecting with a character is a lot easier when I have a name. I don’t know why but it is.
Happy Reading Darlings!