age range: 14-17 years
genre: contemporary YA
topics: coming of age; Black, American Muslim families; baking
Khadijah VanBrakle’s website
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Fatima is a fierce protagonist who will stop at nothing to preserve her dignity. Skillful examinations of the intersections between culture, gender, and religion, as well as nuanced perceptions of one Black Muslim community, round out VanBrakle’s searing debut.
This is a special interview to share. Khadijah and I have known each other for years through our New Mexico chapter of SCBWI. She took a revision class I taught years ago. I took a self-defense class she offered last year. She is loads of fun and a force to be reckoned with. Let’s celebrate Khadijah’s debut, Fatima Tate Takes the Cake!
Please tell us about your book.
FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE is a coming-of-age story about a seventeen-year-old Black, American Muslim who must navigate between parental / community expectations & personal responsibility. The story follows Fatima, a high school senior whose arranged marriage to her secret crush is based on a lie.
Here’s the description from my publisher:
Fatima Tate wants to be a baker AND enjoy some innocent flirting with her hot friend Raheem—but her strict Muslim parents would never approve of either…
Seventeen-year-old Fatima Tate, aspiring baker (100% against her conservative parents’ wishes), leads a pretty normal life in Albuquerque: long drives with BFF Zaynab, weekly services at the mosque, big family parties, soup kitchen volunteering (the best way to perfect her flaky dough recipe!), stressing about college.
But everything changes when she meets a charming university student named Raheem. Knowing the ‘rents would FREAK, Fatima keeps their burgeoning relationship a secret… and then, one day, her parents and his parents decide to arrange their marriage. Amazing! True serendipity!
Except it’s not amazing. As soon as the ring is on Fatima’s finger, Raheem’s charm transforms into control and manipulation. Fatima knows she has to call the whole thing off, but Raheem doesn’t like to lose. He threatens to reveal their premarital sexual history and destroy her and her family’s reputation in their tight-knit Muslim community.
Fatima must find the inner strength to blaze her own trail by owning her body, her choices, and her future. Combining the frank authenticity of Elizabeth Acevedo and the complex social dynamics of Ibi Zoboi, FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE is a powerful coming-of-age story that gives a much-needed voice to young Black Muslim women.
What inspired you to write this story?
I wanted to tell a story where a Black, American Muslim teenage girl was dealing with normal adolescent issues, infused with other problems specific to her marginalization. Having three daughters who never had Contemporary YA stories with main characters who were both Black and Muslim was, and still is, a HUGE reason why I decided to write these kinds of stories.
Could you share with readers a few interesting tidbits about your writing process with this book?
I used to start writing without really knowing my main character. After the first and second draft of this book were completed, I paid a sensitivity reader to give it a once over. Based on that feedback, I rewrote the entire story.
It was a difficult decision, but I wanted it to be better. So I took the time and then over eight months, I scrubbed my story until it was the best I could make it. A few writer friends of mine read over some problem scenes and I kept revising.
The process of writing, rewriting then revising this YA story was a long one, but so worth it. I learned a ton, and now I have an actual process for drafting my future books.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
My story is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Just breaking in to say how much I love this.
Many people mistakenly think we are part of the country of Mexico. As a transplant here, I really wanted to use this city’s unique features and give the readers a new experience. In addition, African Americans are here in very small numbers, currently less than five percent of the population. Showing a side of the Land of Enchantment rarely seen in YA fiction was a challenge, but in the end, very satisfying.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
YA/Teen stories set in the Southwestern US (or specifically NM YA / Teen stories featuring a main character from a two-fold marginalization by an author who shares that specific marginalization). Would the story be different if it was written by someone NOT from a diverse background?
Diverse, Coming of Age stories dealing with both Parental & Community expectations.
Going Beyond Stereotypes: Weaving Faith & Other Controversial Topics into Your Stories.
Black & American & Muslim: The YA Stories Not Yet Told.
How does the privilege of wealth in fiction translate into the real world?