content warnings: homophobia, rape, outing
This razor-sharp thriller is about a 17-year-old senior called Kamram Hadid (English of South Asian descent), who attends the affluent Hampton’s college for boys. After his weekend plans get cancelled, he ends up staying on campus and attending an alcohol-fuelled fundraiser party with friends. In his inebriated state, Kamran struggles back to his dorm where he is unwittingly raped by one of his peers. He reluctantly reports the incident to the police and in this way comes into contact with a woman called Zara Kaleel, a former lawyer suffering an addiction problem. Together they stele themselves against the inevitable storm that comes from the taboo of male rape within the Muslim community.
Truth Be Told is the second in the two-part ‘Zara Kaleel‘ series by Kia Abdubllah, but you don’t have to read the first novel (Take it Back) in order to fully appreciate this book. Truth be Told was such an unshakeable and significant read. Not only does it have a tense, hair-raising plot with a mouth gaping plot twist, but its social expression is also profound.
Kamran is a believable protagonist and it was empathizing to read about his internal rationalizing with regard to his victimhood, his fraught relationship with his father, his curiosity about his sexuality and his assimilation into the predominantly white, middle to upper-class environment of Hampton’s college. I enjoyed the legal aspect of the story which worked well in tandem with its domesticity for example, the interesting family dynamics of the Hadid household; from Kamran’s well-meaning parents who actually exacerbate his insecurities to Kamran’s recalcitrant brother, Adam.
And though Zara Kaleel, the former lawyer turned sexual assault support worker, can be seen as the deuteragonist of the story, her troubled past brought on by a failed marriage and her current struggle with addiction doesn’t overshadow the main narrative nor is it itself lacking.
Truth be Told isn’t just a brilliant story, it is also a denouncement of ‘the cage’ of hypermasculinity and the stigma of male rape. I could not fault this book. It delivers a compelling story that displays an acute awareness of the toxicity of rigid gender norms in contemporary British society.