Nine-year-old Malaka Gharib is looking forward to spending two months of summer vacation with her father in Egypt. However, she ends up spending most of her time with her future stepmom, Hala, a beautiful young woman who is quite unlike Malaka’s Filipino mom back in America. Every school holiday from that year on is spent in an almost similar fashion, although Malaka knows it won’t always be like this.
Drawn in a childlike doodle style, Malaka Gharib’s graphic novel memoir, “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” turned out to be a slightly chaotic but touching journey of a young girl and her relationship with her father’s new family. Malaka lives in America with her mother and only spends the summers in Egypt. So, the book is a mishmash of cultural differences between the Arab world and the American way of life, and Malaka’s attempt to fit into a place where she doesn’t know the language and is unfamiliar with customs, traditions, and beliefs.
As I started reading the book, I thought the illustrations were far too simple and basic compared to the kind of graphic novel memoirs I am used to reading. But the art style perfectly blends with the content, since Malaka is only nine when we meet her and remains a school kid for most parts of the book. Thus, the artwork lends an innocent lens to Malaka’s experience. Even though I would’ve probably loved to see the art evolve as Malaka grows up in the novel, that would’ve been a brilliant touch. However, the illustrations remain cute, crayon-like drawings throughout the novel, even as Malaka transforms from a naïve schoolgirl to a more empathetic young woman.
Anyone who has vivid memories of growing up in a time before smartphones, when you had to go to a cyber café to check emails and keep in touch with friends and family, will find Malaka’s experiences very relatable. It Won’t Always Be Like This” is embedded in ordinary daily life experiences of a young girl who must compartmentalize her life between the U.S and summer breaks visiting her father in Egypt. The author shares only the briefest glimpses of her American life in the book, probably because she has already written about it in an earlier memoir called “I Was Their American Dream”.
Malaka’s relationship with her stepmother, Hala, emerges as the primary theme of the memoir, even though the book meanders in between, following Malaka’s interactions with her cousins and anecdotal accounts of events that make her learn new things about Egypt. For example, there’s a few scenes where her father asks her not to speak in English when they go shopping because the vendors increase their prices if they think the customer is a foreigner. From trying flavoured Hookah for the first time; discovering her musical taste might not be as “cool”; enjoying beach trips with ten people jammed in one car; or getting heckled by teen boys; Malaka has bitter-sweet memories of growing up, like everybody else.
I loved the easy relationship between Malaka and Hala, how the two are more like sisters despite their age gap and do not share a hostile stepmother-stepdaughter relationship. “It Won’t Always Be Like This” is almost like an ode to the kinder stepmoms around the world, who treat their stepchildren as their own and form a lasting bond with them.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Also Read: The Madman’s Library – Book Review (audio version below)