Laila and the Sands of Time

Children - Adventure
140 Pages
Reviewed on 06/24/2019
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers' Favorite

Laila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi is obviously designed for middle-grade readers but it is a gem of a book for readers of all ages and of all faiths. Laila is a young Muslim girl whose mother died when she was just a baby. She grows up with her doting father who tries to instruct her on the teachings of Islam. When she reaches her teens, her father remarries and Laila finds herself unhappy with a stepmom and a baby sister. To make matters worse, her father soon died from an illness. In grief and missing her father a lot, her rebellious nature surfaces but a pilgrimage to Mecca with her aunt and uncle will turn her life around, and Laila will never be the same again.

Shirin Shamsi's Laila and the Sands of Time is a delightful middle-grade novel that is both informative and entertaining. And for non-Muslims like me, this book is an exciting eye-opener on the teachings of Islam. Author Shirin Shamsi succeeds in weaving a tale that lets her readers experience a young Muslim girl's life in Chicago and life in 7th century Mecca and Medina, and it is an exhilarating experience. For Laila herself, the adventure is life-changing as she faces the desert's many dangers, and gets the chance to do a good deed for a mother totally scared about her baby daughter's future. Fast-paced, picturesque and straightforward, Laila and the Sands of Time is equally enjoyable and educational. This book is a must-read for readers of all faiths!

Jack Magnus

Laila and the Sands of Time is a coming of age/adventure novel for children and preteens written by Shirin Shamsi. Laila was going on Pilgrimage; her aunt and uncle would be at her home to pick her up any time now. She had always thought that she would be excited at the prospect, but her dream had always been to go with Baba, her dad. They had discussed it so often, even talking about how he and her mom, who had died when Laila was very small, had gone on Pilgrimage for their honeymoon. Laila and Baba had been about to go, two years ago, when he canceled the trip out of concerns for her step-mother, Raisa. Raisa was going through a difficult pregnancy, and Baba wanted to be there for her. Now he was gone as well. Cancer had taken away her dad. She couldn’t help but resent Raisa and her baby step-sister, Naila, for having taken away what little precious time she had remaining with Baba.

Shirin Shamsi’s time-travel adventure novel, Laila and the Sands of Time, follows as a thirteen-year-old girl goes on Pilgrimage and begins the healing process after the death of the dad who raised her. I loved how the book introduces the reader to Muslim culture and traditions and was fascinated by Laila’s Pilgrimage. Her time-traveling experiences in 7th-century Arabia are eloquently told and feel real as Laila becomes the guardian of a family and helps them travel safely to a place where infant girls are routinely killed. Shamsi’s entwined plots work perfectly, and her characters are well-defined and credible. Laila and the Sands of Time is most highly recommended.

Edith Wairimu

In Laila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi, Laila is still grieving the death of her father. Now an orphan, she directs her anger towards her step-mother and infant step-sister. To Laila, her father was everything she had and she cannot envision a world without him. When her uncle and aunt join her on an earlier planned pilgrimage, Laila cannot help wishing she was traveling with her father. She also feels out of touch with her faith after her devastating loss. The pilgrimage turns out to be more than Laila could ever have imagined. She is transported back to seventh-century Arabia where a mother is awaiting her help. The mother’s child is in danger but Laila is unsure how to assist the family. The journey through the desert to get to safety is also very daunting for a teen from the 21st century.

Shirin Shamsi’s Laila and the Sands of Time is focused on the main character, Laila, whose devastating loss in the story creates an emotional connection with the character. The supporting characters are also well-developed and they help create a cohesive plot. The work explores themes of gender equality through which lessons can be gleaned. It also features the process of grief and is an amazing read for middle-graders who are experiencing the loss of a family member. The introduction of time travel into the plot creates an unexpected and captivating twist where life in Arabia in the seventh century is explored. Laila and the Sands of Time is not only well-told, but it is also informative.

Lesley Jones

In Laila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi, as Laila prepares for her pilgrimage to Mecca with her aunt and uncle, she thinks how this trip should have been taken with her beloved father, Baba. It has been four months since Laila has had to come to terms with her father's death and the existence of an unwanted step-mother and baby sister. Laila leaves for Mecca from her home in Chicago and hopes that she finds answers to the doubts and misgivings regarding her faith. However, on her arrival, Laila experiences first-hand proof in the existence of the Messenger of God. She finds herself transported back to the 7th century and is set the impossible task of trying to save one baby girl's life and ensure she arrives in Yathrib, otherwise known as Medina, safely. Will she have to remain in the past and could she actually meet Muhammad himself?

This wonderful story relays the conflicting beliefs of a Muslim girl raised in the West perfectly. Laila is a strong female protagonist who is grieving the loss of both her parents but still remains strong and independent. The relationship between Laila and her father is heart-wrenching as he tries to teach her life lessons and values around her faith. I loved following Laila's personal journey of self-discovery. She not only begins to appreciate the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of her faith and heritage, but also her family that remains. She battles vigorously for what she believes is morally correct even if she is standing alone in that view. The journey through the desert and the encounter with marauders was filled with tension and conflict which kept the story moving forward consistently. I love stories that teach us about other ways of life and traditions and this is a perfect example of such a story. The ending was a definite 'aha' moment and will certainly give you goosebumps. Highly recommended.

Vincent Dublado

Shirin Shamsi’s Laila and the Sands of Time takes part in the growing call in recognizing identity and color. The story takes us into the life of Laila, a thirteen-year-old Middle Eastern girl torn between the opposite pulls of coping with the loss of her dear Baba while struggling to accept her stepmother and stepsister into her life. As she journeys on her vowed pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca, she is transported to the past, back to seventh-century Arabia, where women were undervalued and the desert teemed with unimaginable dangers. Lives will be changed as the young protagonist connects her past with her present, as she helps an infant child reach the city of Medina.

Ms. Shamsi writes in an engaging third-person narration with crisp renderings of domestic and epic tensions. Chapters are introduced by italic vignettes of Laila’s memories with her father that add a flavor of surrealism to the plot. Laila and the Sands of Time is a powerful celebration about family, coming of age, and spirituality in the majestic landscape of the Arabian desert and the urban serenity of Chicago. Ms. Shamsi has written a truly inclusive tale about true Islamic values that repairs misrepresented notions about the culture where she came from. Whether or not this story confronts the issue of stereotyping is a challenge that young people will sooner or later face on their own. But this book will help them to exercise critical thinking, and leave them informed, if not wiser.