Review: 'Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion' an Introspective, Illustrative Coming-of-Age Story

by Christopher Verleger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 14, 2022

Review: 'Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion' an Introspective, Illustrative Coming-of-Age Story

Author Bushra Rehman's impressive, intimate debut novel, "Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion," examines issues of faith, culture, identity, and friendship through the experiences of a Pakistani-American girl from New York coming of age in the 1980s.

In the Corona neighborhood of Queens, Razia Mirza shares her stories of adolescence in an immigrant community, with parents who expect her to respect and maintain her Muslim identity, and friendships that invite acts of mischief and rebellion.

When Razia reaches high school age and accepts the opportunity to attend a prestigious prep school in Manhattan, she meets and falls in love with Angela. Although these young women come from completely different backgrounds, they face similar struggles of acceptance and approval from within their family environments.

Rehman is the author of a poetry collection, as reflected in her prose, which is lyrical, melodic, and rich with painstaking detail. Razia's childhood adventures read like a catalogue of vignettes, told in no discernible order, reminiscent of Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," which is referenced as one of her favorite books.

Given its plotless format, the early portion of novel is meditative and moves rather slowly; however, through her narrative retelling of these events, the reader becomes more familiar with Razia's family traditions, and how her disposition is influenced by the watchful eyes of her parents and the behavior of her neighborhood friends.

As she matures and begins to spend time outside of Corona, Razia becomes more cognizant of her needs and wants, where her story follows a recognizably linear timeline of events. Razia's identity is further shaped by her new school, the Village punk scene, and her complicated relationship with Angela, yet she remains inevitably torn and constrained by her parents' expectations.

The result of her journey of self-discovery is a hurried race to the finish, with a shocking outcome that arguably leaves too much to the reader's imagination. Nonetheless, Razia makes for a fascinating subject in the queer literature canon, and Rehman's debut is an upstanding addition to coming-of-age novels.

"Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion" is available now from Flatiron Books.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.