This book really marked a shift in Islamic fiction for me and the genre. First of all I was waiting for the book to come out. I didn’t stumble upon it or hear about it from someone else. I knew when it was going to be released, and I knew I wanted to read it. Additionally it was the first books published by Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Which according to their website was “founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” This is big, huge in fact. The bar has been raised, and a platform has been given, no more excuses.
Alhumdulillah, Amina’s Voice is a beautiful 197 page book for children ages 8-12. The book is not AR, but probably will be in a few weeks. I think it is spot on for 3rd through 5th grade in terms of content, message, and appeal. The book caters to females and Muslims, but naturally is not limited to those two demographics exclusively. There are characters of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds in the novel that play significant roles in saving the day and keeping the book powerfully optimistic and inspiring.
Amina is starting middle school and everything is changing for Amina. Her friends are acting different, her older brother is skirting with trouble and her religious uncle is coming to visit from Pakistan. Internally, she doesn’t like the spotlight but desperately wants to get out from behind the piano to sing. All of this combines in a climax that pivots around the destruction of the mosque she attends and her having to find her voice, and use it to take center stage in her own life.
WHY I LIKE IT:
There is a lot going on in the book, but it doesn’t get over whelming with Amina’s voice keeping the reader focused on her and her view of the events around her. The author does a good job of getting inside a 12 year-old girls head without being condescending or heartless. The reader feels her stress that she is losing her best friend, Soojin to Emily, a girl who used to torment the two “ethnic” girls, without belittling her concerns. You also feel her love of Islam and struggle to understand if music and singing is permissible within Islamic rules. The book is realistic fiction with school, friendships, and family guiding the story. Everything from the ups and downs of group projects, inside jokes between siblings, and trying to pronounce the big HAA in Arabic. The macro of middle elementary years combined with the micro facets of culture, religion, and current events, and you speak to a section of readers that will connect with Amina and what she goes through in a very authentic, relatable story.
The only points that gave me pause is the premise and music in the book. It is a point of disagreement amongst nearly every group of Muslims, so to have the Imam sitting and listening to her play the piano, is a bit hard for me to accept as the norm, no matter how cool Imam Malik is. Additionally, I wish that Amina’s mom had some depth, and the relationship between Amina and her uncle, Thaya Jaan, was fleshed out just a tad more. In both cases I felt something was lacking, and I wanted more.
Nothing major, but a few minor issues, that a parent may want to be aware of for younger readers. Mustafa, Amina’s brother, is seeing skipping Sunday school class and reeking of cigarette smoke. He denies it, and the issue is definitely not glorified. There is also crushes discussed amongst Amina’s friends and when Amina spills a secret, she has to own up to it and work it out to maintain her friendships. The destruction of the mosque could also be upsetting to younger readers. It isn’t graphic, but her emotional response and the intensity of it, is the climax, and a very real part of our world sadly. For parents, this fictional vandalization could possibly be a great place to start a discussion from if your children are somehow unaware of the current status of Islam in the west. It also shows that people are good, as the whole larger community, comes together to show unity, love, and respect are values to us all, alhumdulillah.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This book would be perfect for a 3rd through 5th book club. If I was starting a new book club I would start with this book. It has it all. It has real issues, religious issues, universal issues, and heart. All while staying on age level and all in a realistic fiction safe space to have an opinion about objectively. The discussions after the book is read will flow naturally, but just in case:
Reading Group Guide: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Aminas-Voice/Hena-Khan/9781481492065/reading_group_guide
Author’s Page: https://www.henakhan.com/