cover image Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys

John O’Brien. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-691-16882-1

O’Brien, professor of sociology at New York University Abu Dhabi, explores the tensions, worldviews, and in-between existence of the Legendz, a group of young Muslim men growing up in an unnamed U.S. city. The Legendz became O’Brien’s tutors in how young Muslim Americans live beyond the questions of terrorism and national security that are so often used to publicly define them. The book’s most significant finding is also its most mundane: young Muslim men in the U.S. are just like many of their non-Muslim peers. They are into music, girls, being cool, and fitting in, and are constantly navigating the ins and outs of living what O’Brien calls “culturally contested lives.” He gets to know his informants well and passes this knowledge onto the reader in a measured, orderly fashion that makes for swift and insightful reading. However, the book isn’t particularly revelatory. When it describes the experiences of young Muslim men for the education of non-Muslims, it simply demonstrates that these teenagers are just like everyone else, trying to figure out how to grow up while negotiating multiple identities and cultural influences. O’Brien effectively shows teenage Muslim Americans to be an unjustly persecuted minority, delving into the psychology of how they behave in reaction to their outsider status in order to a paint a portrait of social anxiety and strained assimilation that is universal in its power. (Sept.)