Disclaimer: I got to read this book in advance for free in exchange for my honest review as part of the book launch tour. However, as it is a Kindle Unlimited book, I could have read it anyway. All opinions, thoughts, and words are my own.
When I was young, I read almost every Nancy Drew book. I’m talking classic Nancy Drew, not the “new” series they put out in the 1990s and 2000s. I loved those books so much. As I read Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret, I couldn’t help but think that I was reading the Muslim version of Nancy Drew. And it was fascinating.
Ayesha is Australian woman, somewhere around eighteen years old. It was only implied that she was eighteen, but I’m going to work under that assumption. She was raised by her uncle and aunt after her parents died, and her uncle has taken her and her two best friends with him to Spain while he goes on a business trip. On the plane, Ayesha meets Kareem, a young man heading to Seville to look for his missing grandfather. Ayesha tells him that she wants to be a detective someday and is good at solving mysteries. He lets her in on the details of his case, and she dives right in.
Now. For those of you familiar with Nancy Drew, you will know that she has two best friends, Bess and George. Bess is a girly-girl, and George is a tomboy. In Ayesha Dean, we have Jess and Sara. Sara is a girly-girl who wears dresses and heels, and Jess isn’t quite a tomboy but prefers her trainers and athletic wear. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, is a lawyer. Dave Dean, Ayesha’s uncle, is a lawyer. Neither Nancy nor Ayesha mind putting their lives on the line to solve the case. I will not complain about all these parallels because where it matters most - the story - Ms. Lum comes in clutch and pulls out a Nancy Drew worthy mystery that unfolds with an ancient gown and a satisfying conclusion. I’d recommend it for any preteen or teenager. Ms. Lum calls it a middle grade book, but it has some (very) mild swearing that I wouldn’t want my younger child to read.
I feel like I can’t fully walk away from this review without bringing up one of Ms. Lum’s intents - to bring diversity to literature. Ayesha is unapologetically Muslim. As I’ve made abundantly clear in previous posts, I am a devout Christian. I couldn’t help but love the faith in Ayesha Dean. The eponymous character consistently relies on her faith in God (the names God and Allah are used interchangeably throughout the book), and she prays for help and guidance throughout the whole book. There is also a prevailing theme of religious tolerance. Ayesha’s best friends are white and Lebanese Christian. The book discusses the Spanish Inquisition when Jews and Muslims were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave the country at risk of torture or death. Ms. Lum doesn’t shy away from her character’s religious identity; she celebrates it. As much as I, as a Christian, enjoy books that represent my own faith, I fully appreciate a writer that does the same for hers.