REVIEW: “She Searches for God in the Storm Within” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Review of Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, “She Searches for God in the Storm Within”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 233-245. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Domestic and sexual abuse, religious violence.

This was a beautiful, painful, powerful story, full of strength and fury and might. In any other context, I think I would have given it full marks. In the context of this anthology, I felt let down by the fact that — while there was a strong heroic woman warrior at the center of the story — there was no poet that I could find: all of Helene’s words are a byproduct of her actions, not the other way around. I could make up a reading of the story whereby “poetry” is more than just words, it is also actions, but…I actually want my poets to deal in words and not just deeds, because that is one of the things that makes poets special. So I ended up a bit disappointed in this story, sadly. I wish I could’ve read it first in another context, divorced from expectations of content, for then I would’ve been able to appreciate it a lot more.

REVIEW: “Talking to Cancer” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Review of Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, “Talking to Cancer”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Originally published in Fiyah Magazine 2 (2017). Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A woman who can cure cancer by talking to it comes to terms with the fact that she can also cause it. This is a rich story about responsibility and gifts, but also forgiveness and acceptance.

Whens she was a girl, Layla learned that she could talk to cancer when she asked it not to kill her mother, and it listened. But it turns out that this gift is double-edged, and in moments of anger, she can also cause cancer to begin growing in a person. As far as premises go, this is a great one. It’s simple, but powerful. Cancer inspires so much fear and so much pain, that the stakes are automatically high.

Layla is a gloriously rich character, someone who has dedicated her life to healing, but also has darkness within her. She’s not an angel, but is instead a real woman with real struggles and real emotions, who is not always her best self. The twists of the story challenge her, forcing her to decide who she wants to be. That kind of internal experience is exactly what I love to see in a short story, so I was not disappointed here.

This is a masterful, engaging story, and I highly recommend heading over to Apex to check it out!