In Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, Hana Khan Carries On, a Muslim woman tries to keep her family’s halal business afloat while finding comfort in creating her own anonymous podcast.
Hana Khan has plenty to worry about: her mother’s casual halal restaurant is in dire financial straits, and the Khan household has been turned upside down by the arrival of her aunt and cousin. Her only outlet is Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles, a podcast that Hana launched anonymously and views as a diary of sorts. As it slowly gains a following, Hana starts an adorable online back and forth with a dedicated listener. What she doesn’t know is that very same listener is Aydin Shah, who runs the competing halal eatery that is jeopardizing the Khan family business.
Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha at Last, was a Pride & Prejudice-inspired journey to romance and self-fulfillment. With Hana Khan, Jalaluddin turns to rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail for inspiration. The bones of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film are there, trading bookstores for halal food, but Jalaluddin launches this story into the 21st century. The most obvious update is Hana’s interest in podcasting and auditory forms of storytelling, but there’s also the setting of Toronto’s Golden Crescent neighborhood, which is home to a thriving Muslim community. Jalaluddin demonstrates how this close-knit world provides both support system and motivation for Hana and her family throughout the novel. But she also acknowledges the depressing truth that it makes them targets, especially when Hana experiences an anti-Muslim hate crime that goes viral.
It’s a tall order to find someone worthy of such a brilliant and earnest heroine, but Aydin is an excellent love interest. He’s genuine and charming, a perfect foil for his father’s more hostile business tactics, but the novel is more focused on Hana’s journey than his own. There is a satisfying happily ever after at the end, but Jalaluddin explores more than just romantic love in Hana Khan. It’s a story of self-love, familial love, togetherness and compassion between neighbors, and all the different ways we express love with who we allow into our lives.
This modern romantic comedy is full of warmth, and complemented wonderfully by Hana’s courageous self-determination and the scene-stealing secondary members of the Khan family. If Hana Khan Carries On is a sign of things to come, whatever Jalaluddin writes next will be inventive, extraordinary and well worth a read.