Tag Archives: Family

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Standard
Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

mustafa book.jpg

This 40 page book caught my attention because I have a son named Mustafa, and the illustrations looked endearing and fun.  The author/illustrator was inspired to write the story when she visited Croatia and saw the resilience of the children.  She also remarks on her website, that children in new places can all relate to the nuanced uneasiness and gradual fitting in process that takes place universally (http://marielouisegay.com/blog/).

IMG_1816

The text is prose-like as young Mustafa ventures from his apartment each day to the park nearby.  He notices things he has never seen before and compares them to the destruction he recalls of his homeland.  He also finds things that remind him of home and things that look familiar. From little ladybugs and a heart-shaped leaf, to the changing leaf colors and kids dressed up in costumes, there is so much to take in and understand.

IMG_1818

As the days go on, he begins to wonder if he is invisible.  Finally, a little girl with a cat makes a small beckoning gesture to him that doesn’t need language to be understood, and just like that, the world gets a little more welcoming.  This gentle story shows what being new can feel like, and reminds us that sometimes all it takes is a simple act of kindness to change so much.

IMG_1820

The book mentions that Mustafa came on a long journey, but does not specify where he has come from.  He draws his house being bombed in the dirt with a stick and mentions loud noises and fire.  The mother wears hijab, and obviously his name would identify them as Muslims, but other than that there is no reference or mention of religion.

IMG_1817

Overall, the book would be great for ages 4-8.  The passages are a little long, but with the illustrations and relatable concepts, I think children will reflect on what the author is trying to convey, and be able to process what Mustafa has been through, and how hard even the littlest things can be in a new place.

Advertisements

She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

Standard
She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

red.gif

After having fairly good luck with the Muslim YA Romance Novel Genre in An Acquaintance and Saints and Misfits, I was willing to give She Wore Red Trainers a try.  Na’ima B. Robert has written a lot of books and this 261 page book was an easy and entertaining read.  There are no plot twists, deep thoughts, or intense drama, its a light read that infuses religion and environment into a story that will be great for 14-16 year olds that have slim pickings of relevant, Islamic, “halal” fiction options.

SYNOPSIS:

The story is told from two 18-year-olds’ perspectives, Ali and Amirah. It goes back and forth and while the perspective is obvious, the bottom of the page identifies the character so there is no chance for confusion.

Ali has begrudgingly moved to London with his brothers and father.  Not very religious before his mother’s death, he and his father and younger brother have made a new start and commitment to Islam since losing her to cancer.  The middle brother, resists this, but isn’t too critical in the story, other than to add a voice to the concept that people have to come to Islam on their own, that the relationship between a person and Allah is not cookie cutter or often simple. 

Amira too has a past and a lot on her plate as she strives to balance her chaotic family life and moving past decisions of her rebellious self.  The two meet and in the brief second before gazes are lowered, they fall in love.  Ok, so it isn’t that cliche’ but it is close.

The two, as the dedication of the book states, “are striving to keep it halal.”  They have a few encounters and the sparks are there, but they both have their own stories and supporting cast of friends as well. It isn’t until the very end, SPOILER, they get married.

Yup. impromptu wedding of 18 year olds.  It isn’t out of left field though, there are passages that contemplate the Islamic merits of a young marriage, and perhaps that is the depth of the book, as far as giving the reader something to think about. That and choosing Islam and actively living it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The stuff that makes the book interesting, isn’t really even the two love birds, it is the context.  The struggle of Amirah’s complex family situation with a mom that has had multiple husbands, and is suffering from depression.  Amirah also has a creepy stepdad (makes her uncomfortable and seems to make sexual advances toward her) and a sketchy past that isn’t really articulated but is hinted at enough to know that she did rebel briefly by running away and experimented with drugs and alcohol before realizing it wasn’t the life she wanted.  She takes tremendous care of her younger siblings, one who is deaf, and respects her older brother tremendously.  Her friends are not overly developed but provide enough diversity that the reader will see themselves in someone even if just fleetingly.

Similarly Ali is fleshed out by the company he keeps.  He has very religiously devout friends, a few rebellious ones and countless opportunities to define who he is.  His home life is a little chaotic, but they’ve gone through the destruction and are in the rebuilding phase. 

I like that the characters are fallible and represent a wide spectrum of religiosity.  The book isn’t political, nor does it discuss culture really, but it is meant for Muslim readers.  The characters throw in Arabic terms and while there is a glossary at the back, the religious rules, the contemplation of hadith and ayats, understanding Islamic divorce and the stress to be well established before marriage make it a book for those that can relate.  I love that part of keeping it halal is that they don’t talk and text.  I know that makes it a bit unbelievable, but I like that the line is drawn and established.

I wish that the past of many of the characters was clearer.  Not overly sensationalized, but a tiny bit more.  I wanted more information on what Ali’s dad’s new job was, and how far away they would be moving.  I wanted to know how Amira’s family would manage without her and the creepy stepdad, would the mom be able to step up and care for her kids.  I wanted more details about Amira’s family in general and why her older brother had to leave his studies permanently in Saudi Arabia, and wasn’t able to just delay graduation.  

I can’t criticize the writing too much because I did read the book in one sitting and it kept my interest.  I didn’t expect it to be deep or thought provoking, so for a light summer read, it was good enough.  I felt like the ending was a bit rushed, and yes there are some far fetched ideas, but I think it’s a romance novel, halal or not, so yeah, there are going to be some places that forgiveness is needed.

FLAGS:

There is mention of hooking up, drug and alcohol use, virginity, and a creepy sexual predator in the stepdad. It isn’t appropriate for middle school, but not so vulgar that one would need to be 18 to read.  I think high schoolers won’t find it too cheesy, and not be shocked by the content either.  Granted it depends on the reader. but I think it is better to be safe than sorry.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider the book for a high school book club. Might have to get parental permission, but I think it works well to consider how to have it all so to speak.  How to live within Islam and be smart about your choices.  The book doesn’t offer a lot to think about and mull over, but if you were a teenager, I would imagine that the book presents a lot of what you are feeling.  There is a lot to relate to in the friends, the deen, the emotions, and the temptations.  It also shows that just because families are Muslim, doesn’t mean that they are not complicated and troubled, a scenario that many would find reassuring at least superficially in the book.

Interview with the Author: http://www.kubepublishing.com/an-interview-with-naima-b-robert-about-her-forthcoming-book-she-wore-red-trainers/

You’re Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood

Standard

your not proper

This highly praised British young adult novel is intense.  If I was trying to sell you the book I would say that it is relevant, gritty, raw, and real, but as a reviewer, it is definitely more rough, all over the place, and random.  There is so much going on in the book that it should be well over 400 pages to resolve it all, but almost as if the publisher required that the book be less than 200 to fit the demographic, it all gets tied up way too simplistically and leaves dozens of tangents unresolved, unexplored, and hanging.  The main characters are 14 years old, but I think it is a bit too harsh for that age group and should probably not be read by them.

SYONPSIS:

Karen’s mom doesn’t believe in God but takes her to church.  Karen’s dad is a Pakistani Muslim who loves bacon and beer.  The book opens with Karen’s gang marking her forehead with a cross against her will, and her soon after deciding that she doesn’t fit in with her friends and will now be Muslim.  Part of this transformation involves her wanting her name pronounced properly, as Kiran and her wearing a hijab.  Her parents are pretty ok with the decision, but the author foreshadows that this will be the undoing of her family.  

The book gets crazy, like all over the place crazy, but because of the little hints that all this craziness is leading up to something, I kept reading thinking that the author had it under control.  But no, I don’t think he does or did. 

The most craziness comes from Kiran’s rival Shamshad who leads another gang and pretends to be really religious, but is a bit of a rebel and bully herself.  The author is told from both Kiran and Shamshad’s perspectives, and while at times the reader sympathizes with Shamshad, as her influential father is abusive, many of her actions are so jarring and awkward, that no, she isn’t really like-able at all.  She wants a computer, her parents are that strict, yet she goes out with a guy, gets drunk, hangs all over him, goes to a Halloween party/dance without seeming to have to sneak about doing it.  She is regularly beating people up, threatening to kill and maim people with scissors, not a nice 14-year-old, nor a believable one either.  

As Kiran tries to learn about Islam and figure out what is tearing her family apart, and Shamshad is trying to find her place, the two storylines come closer together before the big climax of learning what tied the two girls’ families together in Pakistan and then here in the same English neighborhood.  The climax/ point of the story is actually a good one, but the resolution of it, is so simplistic that it cheats the reader of any potential investment they may have skimmed from the crazy build up.  It seems like the author had an idea and just worked backward for his big reveal, which is probably how most books are written, but in good books, you connect with the character and join them in their journey, here there is no character connection.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like the idea of the book.  That there are good and bad Muslims and Christians, that things are diverse and complicated and that we all have our own baggage either at home, or in our heritage, or in our environment. But the book is not cohesive, the characters are really, really harsh.  And it doesn’t seem the author gets their voices right.  Plenty of males write beautiful complex female characters and vice versa, and plenty of adults get teens right, but I don’t think this author got either.  The girls are not believable and the minor characters are just as bizarre.

I think if you you live in a highly diverse area and you are acquainted with lots of minorities you can handle the way Islam is portrayed, but if you aren’t I think both Muslim and non Muslim readers alike will be shocked and offended by the portrayal of such crude characters.  This isn’t a book of accepting differences and finding a way to get along, it is more of a book showing how awful everyone is in varying degrees.  If it was an adult book perhaps you could argue it is realistic, but as a teen book, I think the lifestyle choices of all the characters will be eye-opening and not necessarily in a good way.  I do like that the book isn’t offering a moral statement or opinion on Islam, but the way Islam is presented isn’t inspiring either.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for books that are meticulous, not boring, but deliberate.  Authors like John Irving who seem to map their stories with crime solving precision.  Where every sentence serves a purpose and every idea has a reason for being shared.  Most books leave something hanging, but this book, left everything hanging.

For two girls in gangs, the gang members by and large fade away before we even get to know them.  There is a rally being planned but resolved half heartedly.  Kiran has to fight with her parents to learn about herself in a really unrealistic way.  Kiran harasses her dad to learn about Islam, but then all of a sudden her paternal grandpa lives nearby and brings over a marriage proposal, why couldn’t she ask him about Islam, and why would a 14 year old be considering marriage?  The whole scene of Kiran getting a hijab is weird and pointless, why stress underwear and having another customer make a random comment for no reason.  What was the obsession with swimming for Shamshad and her mother, like there is a lot of space dedicated to this topic, and I don’t really get it.  Shamshad’s dad is also creepy, he seems to have a decent relationship with her, but is physically abusive to her mom, and he does a weird inappropriate thing with a pointer stick to Kiran at the masjid, that should be discussed more in my opinion.

Once the big reveal happens really there are more questions than answers.  Like I still don’t get why the families hate each other, if they had to make promises of secrecy in Pakistan, couldn’t they just ignore and be ambivalent to one another in England? Why so much hate and hostility? And what is up Jake? He seems like a good friend that makes some mistakes and Kiran is awful toward him, then all of a sudden she claims him as a brother.  And whats up with him going on and on about his brother in the military, I need closure! And last but not least why when Kiran’s mom is in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, why does the Curry Club, that no one in the book ever liked, suddenly in the hospital room with them, when it should be a tender mother-daughter moment? Seriously, I was beyond annoyed.  There should have been a message, or a cathartic release, not annoying super side characters coming back for no reason.

FLAGS:

Lots of violence, alcohol, language. There are also romantic relationships and the celebration of Halloween.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that I would recommend this book to anyone.  I am willing to concede that some of it was lost in translation for me, but there is so much going on in the book that there is no way that it can excuse it all.  I would love to discuss some of my concerns with someone who has already read it though. So feel free to reach out, I’m all ears.

Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

Standard
Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

snatched

The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

snatched3

Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

snatched1

After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

snatched4

The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

snatched2

The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Standard

skunk girl

Having been pleasantly surprised with a few recent reads in the romance/islamic fiction genre I thought to give this slightly more cultural take a try.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t surprise me pleasantly, but rather left me disappointed and slightly annoyed.  At 231 pages and an AR 5.2, the book would have worked much better framed as a memoir or semi autobiographical dairy, as it stands as a novel there is no point to the story, no real character connection, no real lasting impression.  There are a few comical concepts, but only because I am Pakistani-Muslim and female did I get them, and sadly those few instances, aren’t enough to carry the book and make it worth recommending.

SYNOPSIS:

Nina Khan is in high school in a small New York town and her strict parents don’t let her do the typical high school stuff like date or talk to boys.  Her parents are not religious, unless her mom’s family is visiting and they put on an act.  Her parents aren’t awful, however, they are educated, kind, and quirky, but culturally strict none-the-less.  Nina has two amazing school friends, that she has grown up with that accept her and her social limitations for the most part.  When Nina falls for the new boy in school, Asher, though, they work overtime to figure out how to get them together.  In addition to the boy dilemma the other stress is Nina feeling like she is in her older sister’s shadow.  An older sister who is a genius and is away at Harvard. There’s a girl at school that annoys Nina, but really their interactions are petty and annoy the reader more than anyone else.

As Nina’s friends hook up with boys and Nina has various interactions with Asher, one involving him seeing down the back of her sweater and thus her stripe of back hair, we are also introduced to some of her Desi friends.  In my opinion the passages about her conversations with the ethnic kids trying to find their way in life and in love and still maintain their culture and religious values, is way more entertaining than the bantering back and forth with Helena and Bridget.  If the author were to rewrite the book as a diary or biography, and focus more on the Desi friends, the book would probably be more interesting, compelling, and relevant.

The climax, if there is one, is when Nina’s parents go out of town and she is able to sneak off to a party and try alcohol, getting blackout drunk, and then going on a ski weekend with Asher, making-out with him and then deciding that that’s not for her.  At least I think that is what she decided.  She decided she can’t be with him, and she heads off to Pakistan with her sister to meet her parents, but thats it.  There isn’t really a climax, there isn’t an ending. Literary structure might allow you to do one, but not having either a point or a conclusion, makes the book fall flat.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I read the whole book, so it wasn’t so atrocious that I couldn’t get through it, it just seemed to focus on the wrong things in the narrative and not make the main character relatable.  I wanted to grow with her, but her reflection at the end didn’t really make a strong point for her, so it didn’t make one for the reader either.  I think part of this is that the author, frustratingly to me, interchanges religion and culture a lot.  And while she might get them kind of right, I think non Muslims and non Pakistanis might find the two muddled.  She asks Allah to help her make a good impression with and Asher, yet constantly uses the Pakistani culture as the reason why she can’t date and drink in the first place.  My thinking is that the religion should trump the culture, but because being brown and Paki and Muslim are all viewed as being the same, the logic is kind of lost.  And granted in some households it really is that way with religion and culture, but the nuances aren’t explored, explained, or even acknowledged, unfortunately.

It is clear that the author knows Islam and Pakistan, her love of them (assumption) just doesn’t come through.  Her off hand remarks about a lota, and ayatul kursi, and her Pakistani ranking system are funny, and momentarily relatable.  Unfortunately, so often it seems the story is positioned so that the religion and culture are stifling and the western world is being denied to her.  Honestly after reading the book, I’m not really sure why she doesn’t rebel and do what she wants, the story doesn’t really show what she gets out of doing what her parents want her to do, and why it would matter to her in the long run to do what she wants as a “rebellious” teen.  

FLAGS:

There is alcohol mentioned and consumed.  There are a lot of relationship topics  explored throughout the book including the minor characters deciding to have sex and the  main character kissing.  For mature readers, high school and up.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t present this book to a book club, nor can I see myself suggesting anyone to read it.

 

 

Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

Standard
Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

IMG_0976

This picture book for ages 7 and up, reads incredibly smooth for the amount of text on each page, and the pictures are warm and expressive in this large (8.5 x 11) 32 page book.  Clearly the author is talented in writing and passionate about empowering her character to hold on to her culture and faith, however it seems overly forced at times.  

muhima

The premise is that it is Muhiima’s birthday, but that she doesn’t celebrate birthdays, her family only celebrates both Eids.  So when her mom hands her a surprise on the morning of her birthday and Muhiima asks if it is a birthday gift and her mom says, “kinda” it seems a bit like she is walking back from the premise. The tie-ins throughout the book as she journeys from location to location on her quest as a result seem forced.

muhima1

The map first leads her to her father’s book store to get wisdom and love and a gift that she can’t open until the end.  She also journeys to her Grandparent’s house, her Uncle’s basketball game, her Aunt’s beauty salon, and oddly her Masjid Quran Class, which apparently she is skipping, but stops to get the wisdom and gift from her teacher at, none-the-less.  Oddly enough, but at least noted, she reaches home to find everyone on her quest already there.

muhima3

On her way home, she sees her non-muslim friend Rosie celebrating her birthday and wishes she could have a birthday gathering with gifts and family too.  When she opens the door to her own home, she gets just that.  The passages detailing why it is hard to be different are incredibly relatable and poignant, but to then have Muhiima get the same thing with a different name, again seems like the author is walking back on her premise.

muhima2

The wisdom and advice the family gives to Muhiima is wonderful and powerful. I love that the character is a strong girl of color, and that her family is supportive and consistent.  They say Salaam, they pray, they go to the mosque.  Some of the little details were jarring, like why it didn’t specify what prayer, why it was her class that she visited at the mosque, how all the people got to her house before her, etc.  This minor glitches with the forced premise of relating the quest to her birthday, make the book overall a bit awkward.  This is so unfortunate because the advice and the quest are so endearing, while not being judgementat or preachy.  I don’t know how to fix it, I just hope, like really really really hope, that the author keeps writing and that her next book is a little more revised and editted.

 

Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Standard
Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

escape from aleppo.jpg

N.H. Senzai’s newest book (published in January 2018), gives a face and a voice to the grave situation in Syria.  Like Senzai’s other books, she uses the rich culture and history of a country to inform the reader, and a compelling front story to keep middle school readers entertained.  This 336 page book is not in the AR data base yet, but fourth grade and up should be able to follow the story and be able to handle the violence and destruction presented.  The story is unique in the genre, in that it doesn’t focus on getting to a safe country, but rather on the heroine’s journey to simply get out of a dangerous one, Syria.  The storyline is fairly linear with flashbacks of life before the war making the story informative, but not necessarily gripping.  I wanted to love it, but found myself forgetting about it when I stopped reading.  

SYNOPSIS:

Fourteen-year-old Nadia, has a fun full life in Syria: a large extended family, she stars in a commercial, has good friends, and a lot of opportunity and perhaps privilege.  All that, however, slowly disappears as civil unrest and ultimately war consume the country.  As a child she gets glimpses of the changes coming, but is able to still hide in her ignorance and focus on things like her nail polish and Arab Idol.  As food gets short however, she sneaks out to get bread with some cousins, and is hit by shrapnel.  While, her leg is able to heal, her anxiety of going out alters her life and makes her family’s attempt to get to the Turkish border later, a hard mental obstacle she must face.  Her inability to move quickly with the family on their covert escape route, and the bomb that hits their home, separates her from her family and leads to her getting left behind.  As she tries to remember how to get to the designated meeting location, she must navigate Syrian soldiers, rebel factions, ISIS, secret police, violence, hunger, and being lost.  With her cat, Mishmish, for companionship, Nadia reaches the location only to find that her family has left for Turkey and will wait on the border for her.  Luckily for Nadia, amidst this devastating news, she meets an old man, Ammo Mazen, and his Donkey, Jamilah, willing to help her reach the border.  Along the way the two face long odds of surviving, not only from the war around them, but also the weather, the old man’s illness and lack of food and water.  As they journey through Aleppo, snippets of history and culture are shared, two more children join their journey and mysteries as to who Ammo Mazen really is come to light. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book’s premise is simple, allowing the reader to focus on Nadia and her companions and not get bogged down in the political factions and names and alliances.  The book is not about all of the aggressors, it is about a girl trying to reach her family, and the growth and ability to choose kindness that she learns along the way.  The girl is not religious, but culturally it is a part of her environment.  Her companion Tarek, is religious and he spouts Islamic tidbits as they journey, adding some knowledge to be conveyed about Islam which is sometimes informative and sometimes comical as his character is often a bit awkward. 

I love the cultural beauty that is conveyed, and the heaviness in Syrian’s heart that “What had taken five thousand years to build had taken less than two to ravage.” The saving of historical artifacts, the showing of cooperation between people of different faiths as the characters meet in mosques and churches and meet people of all backgrounds, makes the loss of humanity and history so palpable. 

I also love that there is an Author’s Note at the end.  The whole book I kept having to shush my mind as I felt like this was the story of Mariam in Senzai’s book Shooting Kabul.  Yes that takes place in Afghanistan, but it was so similar in that it was a girl getting separated from her family in an escape attempt during a war, and sure enough she mentions that, that is where Nadia’s story grew from.  

FLAGS:

There is a lot of violence and death, but nothing gruesome or sensationalized.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a great Book Club choice, because it would encourage readers to keep at it and finish the book.  While reading it, the book is wonderful, but for some reason, I had to urge myself to pick it up and start it again.  Perhaps it is because I have read all of Senzai’s books and I was pretty confident all would end well, or because I’ve read quite a few books now about war and refugees and Syria, but while it reads quick it did take me longer than it should to finish it.  I think parts of the book that detail a lot of the skirmishes and fighting might be hard to visualize in the mind’s eye so as an assignment or Book Club selection would benefit the readers to allow them to discuss all the mini climaxes, understand the terrain and architecture, and to really put themselves in Nadia’s shoes.  The transformation in Nadia from a brat, more or less, to a compassionate, strong, determined young woman is a journey that I would love to hear feedback from other kids about.  I think they would definitely have thoughts and opinions that would really bring the humanity of us all out, and make us connect with the plight of those trying to get out of such horrific circumstances.

Publisher’s Page: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Escape-from-Aleppo/N-H-Senzai/9781481472173

Teaching Guide: https://www.teachervision.com/teacher-discussion-guide/escape-aleppo-reading-guide

Author’s Page: http://www.nhsenzai.com/escape-from-allepo/