A Shared Journey on Separate Paths

Danny Stock

Laila Sabreen Nashid, GDS Class of 2019, will debut her young adult (YA) contemporary novel, You Truly Assumed, on February 8, 2022. The book, which she began writing during her junior year at GDS and completed while at Emory University, follows the journeys of three Black Muslim teenagers as they learn to become social activists, each in her own way, following a terrorist attack and increased anti-Muslim hate. The book is available for pre-order from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

The book was conceived as “Muslim bans” filled the news, especially in the DC area, and Laila, a Black Muslim woman herself, was still processing the results of the 2016 Presidential Elections and the accompanying uptick in Muslim hate. 

“The seed for the book was definitely planted while I was at GDS,” Laila explained. “Being at GDS specifically and being involved in advocacy while growing up in the DC area influenced the advocacy aspects of the book.”

Laila’s love of literature began with weekly trips to the library with her mother as a young child. Her writer’s journey began in Lower School when she began composing what she much later recognized as Angelina Ballerina fanfiction.

Her development as a writer was supported by English classes she loved along the way, including in Middle and High School with Mayra Diaz, Katherine Dunbar, and former English teacher Kamaya Prince Thompson. Still, she experienced writing at GDS as more academically focused rather than creative so she did much of her creative writing outside of school. During her senior year at GDS, she participated in two author mentorship programs, which helped her develop some familiarity with the publishing industry. 

“Growing up, I didn’t see Black Muslim women in young adult literature spaces,” Laila said. “I knew right off the bat that I wanted the characters [in this book] to share a similar background to me. I don't think there was a specific experience that sparked that, but overall I think I knew I wanted to do that in writing this story.”

The story follows three teenagers—Sabriya (“Bri”), Zakat, and Farah—as they build their power as advocates and document their very different journeys in an online journal, where they “shatter assumptions and share truths.” The blog soon goes viral. Laila explained that she wanted to highlight that there are multiple ways to make change.

“I write from three points of view,” Laila said, “and they all go about being involved with the blog in different ways. One is more of a writer, one is more of an artist, and one is involved through STEM and coding. They’re all a part of this blog, and they're all making change in completely different ways. One of the biggest takeaways is that there's no one way to be an activist, no one way to make change.”

For those who do not see their identities reflected in Laila’s main characters—i.e. non-Black Muslim teens—Laila hopes her books will convey the diversity of the Muslim community, in particular diversity among Black Muslims. 

“Muslims in general, and Black Muslims specifically, are not monolithic groups,” she said. 

These days, she recognizes the importance of “trying to speak up [for justice], being aware and engaged, and also being able to shut off when I feel it's necessary to do so for mental health purposes.” Still, she encourages other youth to stay aware of what’s going on outside of their own lives, in and beyond their communities.

“Being able to accomplish something at this age [is something] I don't give myself enough credit for,” Laila said. “GDS really gives a space for people to lean into their passions and sets them up to be able to accomplish big things. GDS gets some credit for helping me get into this position.”

Be sure to pre-order Laila’s book, You Truly Assumed, from your favorite bookseller and keep an eye out for notices of her next book project. Content warnings for racism, anti-Muslim hate, and online harassment. Learn more about Laila on her website: https://www.lailasabreen.com/