Caroline Carpenter, The Bookseller's web editor and one of the panel of judges said: "We’re delighted to share this year’s YA10, showcasing the breadth and brilliance of YA publishing in the UK and Ireland today. Among the submissions, we saw three main trends: books about teenagers struggling with their mental health, books set in or around water, and books increasingly concerned with borders. These timely themes reflect some of the biggest issues facing not just young people, but also society in general at the moment, and they are all represented on the shortlist in some way. I’m excited to see which book the judges select as their victor.”
Khan has a rare ear for authentic teenage dialogue and manages to bring humour and lightness to a heavy subject. He has said that he was inspired to write the book by news reports about the three teenage girls who, in February 2015, left Bethnal Green Academy in east London to join Islamic State.
On paper, this sounds like a gritty “issues” book and, yes, such subjects as Islamaphobia and terrorism are intrinsic to the plot. Yet it’s testament to Khan’s skill as a writer that this is an uplifting, empowering novel with hope at its heart. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, he has a real ear for dialogue, fresh, funny and colloquial, making his teenagers real and relatable. However, it is the rooting of the narrative in Muzna’s coming-of-age that is the masterstroke. She’s a warm, vulnerable, complex heroine, and while her experiences offer a much-needed perspective on growing up as a Muslim teenager, her search for identity is a universal one.