I wanted to see snow when I was a kid. I waited years. But it never happened. No one told me that it’d never happen in Singapore – the tropical island where I grew up.
See, I watched a ton of kids’ shows and cartoons back then, and I kept seeing children my age having the most fun in snow, especially around Christmas. But they were white as the snow they played in. While I was as brown as the dirt I rolled around in.
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I was born to an Indian dad and a Malay mom, and we practiced Islam.
I had the wrong skin color, the wrong religion.
I very rarely got to see a vision of myself on TV or in books. White children were afforded trips to fantasy worlds. They had fun escapades with their siblings and next-door neighbors. They got to go on wondrous trips to outer space and under the sea.
Looking back, I wanted to be like them, because they had so much more fun than I did.
It didn’t help either that we grew up poor. Chicken was a luxury my parents could afford only once a week. But when I turned nine, I nearly qualified for a special program for kids who did well in their exams, and my principal took notice. He granted my mom a food stall in our school, and we, for the first time, lived without worry. And I ate all the fried chicken I could stomach every single day.
But I was stuck. Because even with appetite sated, my brain had little fuel to go on. All I could rely on was my imagination. An imagination that desperately wanted to see analogs of myself in luckier predicaments than I was in.
I wanted an escape from the physical abuse my father would deal out. A man who was all father and never dad. A man who thought being a father was about duty, and not one that required showing regular acts of love.
Which meant I had to keep a tiny piece of myself hidden from him and everyone else. Something I could not figure out. Something that made me feel different.
See, young Naz couldn’t understand why he wasn’t attracted to girls – something that seemed natural to boys all around. They’d talk about pretty girls with long hair, and I’d feel… nothing. Other than an intense admiration of the boys themselves. Which led me to question my circumstances.
I didn’t understand that this questioning led to an accelerated development of my brain’s critical thinking skills. Asking why I couldn’t be who I was in the country I grew up in. How could I be happy, and why should I stay when I could leave, and how could I find that happiness by escaping this life and my father?
Which led me to running away from Singapore at seventeen.
So, I got to take my first ever plane ride – where I spent the entire time staring out the window.
I ended up all the way in Michigan. And because it was in the middle of February, luck thought it was hilarious to finally throw some snow my way.
It took seventeen years to find something I’d been yearning my entire life to experience. And sadly, it’d take about the same time to get my book published.
See, I started writing in 2007, but like most authors of color, I started off with white protagonists. Because they were what sold. And they continued to sell. I thought it was the only way I could be successful as a writer. Five novels later, and my dream remained a dream.
Until the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ movement came about. There was a sudden and urgent call for books by authors like me. I didn’t think it was possible, but it did happen. I started seeing books with protagonists who actually did look like me.
So, I started writing about myself. With a protagonist whose skin was as brown as mine. Someone who was raised by the same religion, and in the same household I grew up in. I decided to round it all off by putting my mom, my sister, and my father into the story.
And what came out was a work of fiction based on the truths I’ve lived. The book that got me my agent and eventually sold in a two-book deal.
It is my debut Young Adult novel, The Loophole. It centers a queer seventeen-year-old Indian-Muslim boy who gets kicked out by his tyrant of a dad and decides to travel the world in search of his ex-boyfriend, so they can try to build a home together again. Oh, and he’s accompanied by a seemingly-magical girl who grants him three somewhat-unreliable wishes.
Like my protagonist Sayyed, I had to go on a journey to find out who I was in order to write this story that will be on bookshelves this month.
This book is my proudest accomplishment, and I hope that young, marginalized, underrepresented teens of the future who look like me won’t have to travel the world just to see themselves in a story.
Because living my truth? I can only wish it for every young person out there.
Meet the author
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Naz Kutub is a half-Indian, half-Malay immigrant from Singapore. His debut novel, The Loopholewas inspired by his personal experiences growing up as a gay Muslim, and as someone raised on a calorie-dense diet of Eastern lore.
About The Loophole
A gay Muslim boy travels the world for a second chance at love after a possibly magical heiress grants him three wishes in this YA debut that’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda with a twist of magic.
Sy placed all his bets for happiness on his boyfriend, Farouk . . . who then left him to try and “fix the world.” Now, the timid seventeen-year-old Indian Muslim boy is stuck in a dead-end coffee shop job and all he can do is wish for one more chance. . .
Sy never expects his wish to be granted. But when a mysterious girl offers him three wishes in exchange for his help and proves she can grant at least one wish with an instant million-dollar deposit into Sy’s struggling bank account, a whole new world of possibility opens up. Is she magic? Or just rich? And can Sy find the courage to leave Los Angeles and cross the Atlantic Ocean to lands he’d never even dreamed he could visit, all to track down his missing ex? With help from his potentially otherworldly new friend, will Sy go all the way for one last, desperate chance at rebuilding his life and refinding love?
Your wish is granted! Naz Kutub’s debut weaves an engrossing whirlwind of an adventure with a journey to find love, home, and family.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 06/21/2022
Age Range: 13 Years +
Filed under: Guest Post