Forty Words for Love by Aisha Saeed

Although Forty Words for Love by Aisha Saeed is certainly a story about love, the plot runs much deeper to embrace other topics, as well. Topics like immigration, socioeconomic status, truth, and following one’s dreams also find a place in these pages.

Saeed shares multiple morals as the story of Raf and Yas unfolds. When the story opens, readers learn briefly of Raf’s trek from Golub and about a sacred tree that allows or denies passage from one world to another. People from Raf’s world have a golden leaf birthmark that pulses and warms in warning if a person has moved beyond the perimeter of mobility or broken some sacred principle. In Moonlight Bay, life is different, but those from Golub have the guidance and wisdom of Tolki Uncle. Still, Raf dreams of being an architect. Tired of wanting what he cannot have because of obligations and responsibilities, Raf dreams of college in Surrey and a degree that will enable him to envision and create. For Raf, architecture is “dreaming up what didn’t exist, seeing it come to life” (219).

Likewise, Yasmine senses an obligation to follow in her mother’s footsteps, to fulfill the family legacy—that of eight generations of Khanani women who make sea shell necklaces that soothe anxious hearts. There was an alchemy between the sea and the shells that Yas’ family had practically melded into a science. Even though Yas knows their work is not a religion, she has lost faith in it. Along with her lost faith, Yas stopped painting and the sea’s colors grew muted and gray.

After a tragedy in Moonlight Bay, the entire town mourns, and the afflicted Holler family leaves, taking with them their fortune, the candy factory, and the jobs that went with it. With so many people now out of work, the town is dwindling and dying. When another wealthy family arrives to buy the Holler Mansion, hope flickers. Maybe the Naismiths with their money can turn things around. After all, money can work magic. The question becomes whether the town will sell its soul or whether Yas can stop the spreading poison in Moonlight Bay.

As Saeed weaves that thread, she weaves the story of Raf alongside. Friends from early childhood, Raf makes Yas’ days brighter. Now, in young adulthood, both are ready for flight but feel closed in, their wings clipped by family obligation and tradition. From her parents, Yas learns that love is not only fairy tale bliss but also fighting , sacrifices, and heartbreak. From Tolki Uncle, Raf learns that protection in the name of love might be more harmful than truth. As they learn the power in truth-telling, both teens come to intimately know how much hope can hurt.

  • Posted by Donna

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