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Between Two Moons


Between Two Moons

The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, tells its readers about phases of the moon and its movement from full to crescent. In Aisha Abdel Gawad’s fantastic debut novel, narrator Amira Emam remembers Allah’s words as such: “We have ordained phases for the moon, which daily wanes and in the end appears like a bent old twig.”

Amira and her twin sister, Lina, are 17 and graduating high school at the start of a summer Ramadan in their neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. With a future seemingly wide open before them --- Amira is off to college soon, and Lina wants to pursue modeling --- they begin the holy month, and their last summer of childhood, with equal parts excitement and boredom. Then a series of unexpected events upends the world as they know it.

Amira’s parents are caught off guard but are thrilled when they get a phone call that their oldest child, 23-year-old Sami, is being released from prison two years earlier than expected. Sami was 17 when he was sentenced to eight years for a crime his sisters never learned the details of. Before he left, there was a tension between the siblings, which only increases upon his return home.

"BETWEEN TWO MOONS is an amazing first novel. It’s powerful, honest and graceful, threaded with a looming sense of inevitable disaster that is masterfully controlled."

Sami is both more devout in his Islam and more mysterious in his activities. Amira watches him carefully, and in the weeks that follow, they grow closer yet remain ever cautious of each other. She also keeps an eye on Lina, though for different reasons. Unlike Amira, a shy and serious hijabi, Lina is wild by the standards of her neighborhood. Her partying and need for attention and validation place her in dangerous situations from which Amira cannot protect her.

Approached by a Muslim man she doesn’t know at a local protest against the arrest of a neighborhood man, Amira shocks herself by responding to his advances. Faraj is older, and he is neither an Arab nor from Bay Ridge. He seems strangely focused on Sami, and Lina (ironically) warns Amira to stay away. Amira is drawn to Faraj, not so much for who he is, but because she believes his attention should make her feel beautiful and powerful. Her all but secret relationship makes her more like Lina and Sami, even as the three young adults distinguish themselves from each other in fundamental ways.

The month of Ramadan tests the Emam family in both new and familiar ways, but as Sami’s clandestine doings come to light, they find themselves as close as can be. This is mostly Amira’s story, but the other characters are important. Her parents are especially interesting and well written.

Amira’s coming of age, her concern for her brother and sister, her new understandings about her parents, and her conflicted Ramadan rituals all take place against the backdrop of the surveillance of her mostly Muslim neighborhood. Gawad makes the thick tension palpable. Amira sees herself as the thin crescent moon between the brightly shining orbs of her siblings, but she herself is a radiant character. She is a perfect tour guide for her small neighborhood; its vastness and diversity easily can be overlooked by outsiders, but she observes it with a critical yet loving eye.

The writing here is steady, strong and beautiful throughout. BETWEEN TWO MOONS is an amazing first novel. It’s powerful, honest and graceful, threaded with a looming sense of inevitable disaster that is masterfully controlled. Taking on love, family, loyalty, desire, belief, belonging and otherness, Gawad does great things.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 17, 2023

Between Two Moons
by Aisha Abdel Gawad

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385548613
  • ISBN-13: 9780385548618