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You’re Not Proper – Tariq Mehmood

October 14, 2016

ynpThe author Tariq Mehmood is well known in Yorkshire for having been one of the ‘Bradford 12‘. This was a group of Asian men who worked for the United Black Youth League and were tried and eventually acquitted for using explosives in 1981 to defend against violent racists in the area. Mehmood is also a fervent promoter of the language Pothowari (a spoken language of West Punjab and the Pakistani side of Kashmir). His first novel’s title Hand on the Sun (1983) comes from the El Salvadorian graffiti ‘To hold a people down forever is like putting a hand on the sun’, indicating that it is a politically activist book from a working-class writer.

Karen thinks she’s not proper white. Her dad is Pakistani and her mother is white Christian, and somehow she feels as if she doesn’t quite fit in… anywhere. So she’s made a choice: she’s switching sides.

Karen’s going to convert to Islam to find her true identity. But Shamshad, her Hijab-wearing school mate, isn’t making things easy for her. What’s her deal, anyway? Is Shamshad really any more proper than her?

Trouble and turmoil await in the old textile mill town of Boardhead East, as school battles are replaced by family troubles, name calling turns to physical confrontation and cataclysmic secrets are unveiled.

Set against a backdrop of seething Islamaphobia, You’re Not Proper is the first in the Striker series, written by Tariq Mahmood, to shine a light on issues of identity, religion, politics and class affecting young people today – a unique new series in young adult fiction.

14-year-old Kiran (her name means ‘light’) is a member of the Willow Tree Mob. This is a gang from Boarhead West, the white side of a divided, declining former mill town that may stand in for Mehmood’s home city of Bradford or could also be a Lancastrian town like Rochdale. Kiran is the daughter of a Pakistani-heritage Manchester United fanatic, Liaqat (‘Lucky’) Malik, and a depressed white mother. At the beginning of the novel, she prefers to be known by her English name ‘Karen’. As Karen, she spends her days texting, listening to Lady Gaga, hanging out with her friends Jake and Donna, and occasionally drinking alcohol and laughing at ‘scarfies, turbans and beards’.

Shade to Kiran’s light, Shamshad is one of the so-called ‘scarfies’ from East Boarhead. She is the hijab-wearing daughter of an austere Deobandi father who forbids pictures and photographs from being displayed in the family home. Despite this prohibition, Shamshad’s mother has discovered Skype and monopolizes the computer for long, gossipy conversations about land, goats and people with her loved ones in Pakistan.

Shamshad loathes Kiran for mocking her headscarf and is jealous of the biracial girl’s relationship with Jake. Her father encourages Shamshad in her enmity, because there is a mysterious family feud between the two families. When Kiran starts to feel drawn towards Islam, Shamshad becomes even more contemptuous. She believes that Kiran, with her fluid identity, picks up and puts down Islam at whi.

Her dad is a Muslim who drinks lager and eats bacon. Her mum is a Christian who doesn’t believe in God yet goes to church.

Their town is called Boarhead but  boar isn’t hallal, it’s haram.

No wonder she’s confused.

The author has vividly understood how horrible teenage girls can be to one another.  I sort of guessed the ending.

He spelt ‘drawer’ wrongly as ‘draw’ but got it right later on.

I had to look up ‘baby grower’ = just a sort of romper suit.

The author: Just because war is a backdrop of a story, doesn’t mean it has to be about bombs and bullets. It can also be about butties and beer, as is the case with Kiran, my main character’s dad.

Just because you are looking for a religious identity, doesn’t mean your story has to be about burqas and beards, it can just as easily be a search for inner peace, pride and a desire for dignity.

My novel deals with young people, who happen to be Muslim in the west, searching for meaning, an identity and a sense of belonging. This becomes all the more difficult if hardly a day passes when, somewhere in the mass media, there isn’t an equation of Islam with terrorism. Like my characters, I too feel a great sense of injustice in the world around me and like them I search for a sense of belonging and meaning.


I was so vexed with Karen, or Kiran, as she wants to call herself for now, I could have smacked her right there. What did she think it was? A fashion item! You are Karen one day and Kiran the next? You sneer at us, call us scarfies one day, and become one the next? … You hang around with your big, ugly gang, you neck them, and they rip our hijabs off our heads, but now you come here all innocent, like?

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