The powerful story of a young woman caught between the wishes of her father and her own desire for independence is the debut novel by Bradford College’s Yousra Abdelal.
Published under the name Yousra Imran, Hijab and Red Lipstick tells the tale of Sara. Her strict Egyptian father moves her family from North London to the Arabian Gulf. As Sara and her siblings negotiate life through their father’s rules and the expectations of a country where “the patriarchy reigns supreme”, she feels as if every door is being closed on her future. Can Sara find her voice again?
Inspired by teen years
The story is inspired by Yousra’s own experiences. Yousra was born and raised in North London but moved to Qatar with her family as a teenager.
“When I lived in the Gulf, I felt like no one really cared what girls had to say,” said Yousra, who lives in Dewsbury and is the marketing events coordinator at Bradford College. “I always felt as if you were a young woman or teenage girl you were never taken seriously.
Among the key themes of Hijab and Red Lipstick is the freedom to practise religion according to its own teachings. This is as opposed to the strict authoritarian regime experienced by Sara and her family, which arises from culture.
“I knew I would write a book one day”
Yousra said: “Because I was born and brought up in the UK, even at primary school you’re encouraged by your teachers to share your opinions. Even as a teenager, I wrote letters to Tony Blair about the war in 2003. When we moved to the Gulf, I felt like my voice was completely silenced, especially as a female. I remember telling myself I would write a book one day.”
Yousra began writing stories as a child and has been writing professionally for around 11 years, with many articles on topics such as fitness and wellbeing, religion, culture and feminism published online and in print. After moving to the UK in 2018, she began writing the book, inspired partly by her own life and those of people she knew.
Hashtag Press competition winner
She soon found an independent publisher, Hashtag Press. She went on to win the Hashtag Press 2020 competition in December to have her book published.
Yousra said that, in recent years, the voices of people from a diverse range of backgrounds were being heard in young adult fiction. “I think with movements such as Black Lives Matter, the publishing industry has finally ‘got’ that there needs to be more diverse voices. In the last six months I’ve seen more young adult authors from a range of ethnicities. It’s been really exciting to see.”
Where you can buy the book
Hajib and Red Lipstick saw its official online launch on Thursday 5 November. It is now available from bookshops. It is available at www.hashtagpress.co.uk/product-page/hijab-and-red-lipstick-by-yousra-imran