The American immigrant experience, particularly for those of Muslim descent, has become a front-page topic in recent years, giving This Ain’t My Life by author Bilal Alaji a true sense of import, for a timely and poignant read.

Recounting his life from childhood to the present, this is a brutally honest and precisely recorded story, one that feels very naturally told, but also framed within larger social issues and beliefs the author wants to highlight. The author’s youthful success and whimsy were dampened by brutal familial expectations, run-ins with the law, and self-professed mistakes in judgment. Despite repeated stumbles and low points, Bilal retained his fighting spirit, with the knowledge implied by the title that he was destined for far greater things.

Ultimately a hopeful and inspiring story, Alaji has delivered an intimate portrait of his own life. However, with such compelling content, a higher standard of editing and draftsmanship is needed. There are many moments within the narrative flow that feel repetitive or tangential, distracting readers from the core message of a scene or experience. Alaji clearly has wisdom to share, and a good hand for storytelling, so with a few more polishes and some narrative panache, this memoir could shine, and give the author’s admirably unique life a proper platform.

That said, this gritty memoir has key moments of poignancy and inspiration, and will be especially moving for those navigating the immigrant experience in the present day.

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