Sahar Mustafah's skillfully nuanced debut novel, The Beauty of Your Face, traces one family's challenges in adjusting to life in the United States through the perspective of first-generation Palestinian American Afaf Rahman. Readers first meet Afaf as a wife and mother and the principal of a private Muslim girls school in Tempest, Ill. At the close of the first chapter, Afaf, while praying downstairs in the school, hears gunshots above her.
Mustafah, maintaining a third-person narrative, then flashes back to 1976, when Afaf was 10 years old, and her 17-year-old sister, Nada, disappeared. The police pronounce Nada a runaway, and the tension simmering between her parents comes to a boiling point. Afaf enjoys her friendships, music and the limited independence her bike affords her, alongside her growing awareness of her mother's displeasure with American life. The author's interspersing of chapters from the shooter's perspective makes it impossible for readers to see him as pure villain. He was neglected by his parents and abandoned by his older sibling, just as Afaf was. A near tragedy drives teenage Afaf and her father into the Islamic Center, where they both begin to heal. In recounting the specifics of Afaf's journey of faith and self-discovery, Mustafah paints a universal picture of coming to understand oneself.
Afaf's incessant desire to win her mother's approval gives her empathy for her own children, her husband and her students. With exquisite pacing, Mustafah builds suspense and also Afaf's quiet courage until--in the book's final chapters--Afaf must do her hardest work yet. She must confront the shooter in order to save her students and herself. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness