I really liked this book, even though a lot of the characters are unlikeable people. The exploration of people's prejudices against Islam is really interesting and made me so angry, but that's a good thing in the case of a book, since any time I'm reading something and it makes me really think or feel strongly, that means the writing is really good.
I liked Mo and Asma the best. I really identified with Mo's position - that he had nothing to explain and that the questions he was being asked wouldn't have even crossed people's minds if he wasn't Muslim. The ignorance and prejudices of the other characters made me so angry, since I see that kind of ridiculous thing in real life. Asma was brave and spoke up for what was right, even though it cost her everything. I HATED Alyssa. She's manipulative and selfish, and had no redeeming qualities. I wish terrible things on her character.
Claire was also irritating. I have a huge problem with people who can't make up their own minds, who are always wanting something more or someone else to make their decisions for them. She was the kind of person that's impossible to please, because there's never enough information to get her to a decision. I find that personality type extremely annoying, because it's so wishy-washy and fearful. Every decision she makes is guided by fear - at first she's afraid of disappointing her dead husband if she doesn't back the design she lobbied so hard for, even though the architect is Muslim. Then she's afraid of the other families, who's bigotry is leading them to reject the garden because the architect is Muslim. She lets Alyssa, a woman she doesn't even know, manipulate her and sow unsubstantiated seeds of doubt and fear in her. She trusts Alyssa's word over Mo's - why? Because Alyssa is a fellow white girl, so she's obviously trustworthy. Her word doesn't deserve to be questioned, even though she's a tabloid reporter who is CLEARLY looking to make a story out of nothing, to stir up controversy. Mo, on the other hand, has done nothing but design a memorial that she adored and felt was the perfect representation of peace and healing, until she found out his religion. So, clearly, he's the one that should be mistrusted, right?
Claire could have solved her own problems by taking the time to investigate and learn about Islam for herself, but did she bother? Nope. She's so busy being a pampered, rich, trophy widow that she can't be bothered to think for and educate herself. Like I said, it's up to everyone else to make decisions for Claire. She's so passive that she can't even bestir herself to do some research, even though she was supposedly a lawyer before becoming a trophy wife.
This book really draws out the things that are wrong with blind patriotism and jingoism. Especially the kinds of flag waiving, "USA! USA!" chanting, "if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" attitudes that have become so prevalent in this country since 9/11. Hopefully, this book makes people question some of their own attitudes and beliefs.