June 2023

Between Two Moons

By Aisha Abdel Gawad
Review by
In Aisha Abdel Gawad’s powerful novel, although family and faith tie its characters together, such bonds can also be used to restrict and smother.
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Aisha Abdel Gawad mixes family drama with a coming-of-age narrative in her debut novel, resulting in a gripping, intimate portrait of a Muslim family in the post-9/11 United States.

Amira and Lina are twin sisters living in Brooklyn who will soon graduate from high school, but their celebration is cut short by life-changing news: Their brother, Sami, is being released from prison. At the same time, during the holy month of Ramadan, their Muslim neighborhood is experiencing hateful attacks. As their brother readjusts to society and the twins teeter on the precipice of adulthood, they all find that, although family and faith tie us together, such bonds can also be used to restrict and smother.

Between Two Moons is narrated primarily by Amira, the more bookish twin. She is ready for a fresh start, and college promises a profound reinvention. Unfortunately, freeing herself from the chains of family, specifically her two siblings, is far easier said than done. Although Lina looks up to Amira, Amira has always felt overshadowed by her freewheeling twin, who aspires to be a model.

Meanwhile, Sami remains cloaked in mystery; the twins have never known the reason he went to prison, and their adolescent memories of him are defined by his rage and destruction. However, when Sami returns, he doesn’t go back to making drug deals on the corner or getting into screaming matches with their parents, a shift that initially makes the twins uneasy. But soon, the family learns to be together again: Sami works with their dad at his butcher shop, and the five of them take a trip to Coney Island in a heartwarming scene of unity. 

Such rosy moments are fleeting, as Islamophobia casts a long shadow over the story. Characters frequently make jokes or references to the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, but this comes from their collective pain, the torture they have experienced under the threat of hate. Some characters find ways to resist this malice, such as Faraj, Amira’s love interest and a community organizer who tries to teach Amira about bringing people together. Meanwhile, Sami devotes himself to his faith, developing a “third eye” mark on his forehead from praying. 

By the end of Between Two Moons, it is unclear whether these efforts make any tangible change, but that isn’t really the point. Coming together, feeling for one another no matter what each of us have been through—this is what Abdel Gawad’s novel advocates for. There is no more powerful message.

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Between Two Moons

Between Two Moons

By Aisha Abdel Gawad
ISBN 9780385548618

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