Tag Archives: Pakistani American

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

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It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

it all comes back to you

Sometimes you just want a light fun, empty-calorie read, and in that regard I feel like this book really delivered.  The characters are in college, and yet it is published by HarperCollins Children, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, which perhaps added to the lack of expectation and increased forgiveness.  It reads very much like a Bollywood movie, there is dancing, angst, romance, redemption, culture, religion, and a sense that a certain arbitrary line of it all won’t be crossed to earn the book an R rating, and will keep it safe for Muslim high school teens.   I think the book is fine for Muslim’s in 10th/11th grade and will be enjoyed by those in college (and up) as well.  Over 429 pages the highly predictable tropes find their footing in their unique religious and cultural framing.  The plot is perhaps a bit on the nose and overly serendipitous, but individually the characters show range and complexities that will resonate with readers.  They have all made good and bad choices and continue to do so, but the big ones are largely in the past, and what we, the readers, get to see in many ways is them reaching for forgiveness in a contemporary whirlwind culmination of a wedding, overcoming addiction, a past felony, secrets, ex-significant others, familial expectations, loss, change, and school.  The book is not preachy, although there is a like-able imam as a side character and he gets some advice in.  The Muslim characters grapple with their faith as they would their culture; picking and choosing what to practice, but never really escaping it or wanting to completely abandon it either, it is just who they are and part of their identity. I enjoyed the book, reading it in two sittings and not feeling guilty that I lost sleep doing so, but like most rom-coms, the specifics and characters will blur over time.  It has a lot of similarities with Hana Khan Carries On, while not having quite the religious adherance of S.K. Ali’s characters or rawness of Tahira Mafi’s.  One thing that is uniquely it’s own, however, is the author’s beginning dedication, I don’t think I have ever read one quite so perfect, memorable, and possibly guilt causing.  I laughed out loud!

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SYNOPSIS:

Kiran’s mom passed away a year ago from ALS, and with her older sister Amira in law school at the time, she dealt with her mother’s illness and passing, largely alone as she additionally had just been ghosted by her first and only boyfriend, Deen.  Now that her sister is about to graduate, and Kiran is about to start university, they can finally be roommates and reunite the family.  Except, Amira has met someone, Faisal.  Someone who was there for her when her mom died, and they are planning to move across the country to California in a few months.  Devastated Kiran forces herself to be happy for her beloved older sister, until she finds out that Faisal is Deen’s older brother, and there are some gaping holes in his past.  With her sisters future on the line, promises to her deceased mother haunting her, and a serious lack of communication abilities (more on that later), she is determined to uncover the truth about Faisal and maybe even Deen in the process.

Alternating point-of-view chapters give Deen a chance to provide his side to the story: the reason he had to disappear from Kiran’s life, what happened to his brother, and the unreasonableness of his family.  As he struggles with his own conscious and stumbles around unsure of his own potential and worth, Deen comes across as selfish and arrogant, but ultimately only cares about his brother and making things up to him.  He is determined that Deen deserves to be happy and he is committed to keeping Kiran from destroying it.

In typical desi fashion, appearances matter and while all the behind the scenes sleuthing, plotting, and fighting is taking place, on the surface, wedding plans are being made and dances choreographed.

The book includes pages of texts from three years ago between Deen and Kiran as they meet at Sunday school and sneak behind the mosque.  There are also gaming dialogues between two anonymous fantasy characters that it is pretty obvious are Kiran and Deen.  The reveal isn’t a shock to the readers, only the characters, and proves a nice way to see redeeming traits in characters who’s present real actions aren’t exactly endearing.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The OWN voice representation of Desi culture and Islam is not in addition to the story, it is woven in to the characters and the plot.  The characters are largely liberal as the families are chill with dating, mixed gender hand shaking and dancing, and what not, but their Muslim upbringing is almost always close by.  The characters say “astagfirulllah” after kissing, they acknowledge that some of the Muslims drink and some have left that lifestyle, they miss visiting the mosque, they recognize that they aren’t praying, etc., while many flags are present, they really aren’t sensationalized or given more than a single word in print.  It strikes a pretty solid balance of showing where some thoughts or values come from, and where personal individuality takes over.  I don’t think Muslims will be offended, nor non Muslims confused.

The biggest issue I had with the characters is that it really could have been resolved, all of it, with a few decent sit down conversations.  Kiran and Amira, for example, are terrible at communicating and it blows this whole thing into a ginormous mess.  Sure, there is no book if there is no drama, but they never fix this.  So many lessons are acknowledged and the character arcs are shown or hinted at, this one, not so much, if at all.  They didn’t talk when their mom was sick, when she died, about what they were going through, about their dad, about their future plans, about the wedding, about the concerns with Faisal, about Kiran and Deen having a past, about moving to California,…the list really is exhaustive, and it doesn’t seem to show that they acknowledge their role in escalating everything and vowing to be better.  Sigh.

I read a digital ARC and it had a few spelling errors, it broke down the fourth wall in one paragraph, and I’m hoping the final copy will have resolved these issues.  It mentions that typically the bride and/or her family pay for the wedding in Islam, and this is erroneous, culturally possibly: the brides family would cover the nikkah and ruhksuti, with the groom covering the walima, but to put it on religion is just incorrect.

FLAGS:

Deen talks about “knowing women,” but it isn’t explored, and the groom is teased that he will be loosing his virginity card.   The kisses aren’t usually described, it is just conveyed as something that happened.  There is a bit of detail in the chemistry felt in the dances, but in true Bollywood fashion, they stop short of kissing. There is a stripper called to the bachelor party, but the characters are appalled and she is immediately escorted out. A religious character accidentally drinks alcohol and blacks out.  There is profanity, not excessive, but conversationally.  There is talk and repercussions of addiction to prescription drugs, a felony crime committed and punished for, deceit, lying, bullying, and physical altercations briefly recalled.  There are parties attended, alcohol consumed,and  at one point a female forcefully kisses an unconsenting male.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’ve gone back and forth with suggesting to the high school book club advisor to consider this book.  I think the right group of readers could really opine on the characters actions from the shy Faisal with a huge forgiving enduring heart to the nosey obnoxious Mona Khala, but there are some potential flags that might ultimately keep this book from being entirely Islamic School appropriate even for the highest grades.  Ahh, I’ll keep you posted on what I decide.

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

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Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

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After reading a few chapters of this book, I really had no intention of finishing it, knowing that my review highlighting the main character’s bisexual identity and romance would draw critiques from both people that don’t want to see Muslim character’s identifying as any of the LGBTQ+ labels and those angered by my mentioning of them as potential flags.  Alas, I did finish the book, and I am reviewing it because as a (former) Islamic School Librarian, I would want to know how much romance is in any book that I would shelve or recommend, and this book particularly gives no insight about any romance in the blurb on the inside flap.  The author’s first book was very clearly about being a queer Muslim, but this YA short 244 page book focuses a lot on Zara’s relationships, her parents support and acceptance of her being bisexual, and her new romance with a girl.  The book is not graphic or even overly steamy, but the blurb suggests the book is only about immigration, hate crimes, and bullying.   So, I write this review to give a heads up to parents, like me, that might see this book on the library shelf or if like the author’s first book, which was picked up by Scholastic, in a school book fair, and not realize that there is a fair amount of discussion about her sexuality and how it is perceived in the Pakistani and Islamic culture, as well as how she doesn’t see the need to fast in Ramadan or pray five times a day, but still identifies as Muslim.  All that aside, I also didn’t love how the book was written, it is a lot of telling and not showing, I feel like the mom is painfully underdeveloped and flat, and the story threads don’t weave together consistently;  it reads scattered.  The book is pretty short for YA and with so many heavy themes, it ultimately can’t spend much time exploring any of them particularly well, a shame since the author in real life seems to have endured much of what she writes for her characters in regards to immigration status and citizenship.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zara Hossain is a senior at a Private Catholic school, in Texas, she has friends that have over the years become family as the parents too regularly get together.  Zara came to American when she was three.  Her family left Pakistan for more educational opportunities and after her father’s pediatric residency, he stayed on with a work permit and green card waiting for citizenship.  The process continues to drag on, and it isn’t finalized.

A boy at school, Tyler, is harassing Zara for being Muslim, an immigrant, and brown.  Her father wants to discuss it with the principal, her best friend Nick wants to beat him up, and her mother just worries.  When finally a meeting with the principal is set, Tyler’s father doesn’t show, and things escalate.  Zara’s locker is defaced with profanity, Tyler is suspended, and the Hossain’s house is vandalized.  When Zara’s dad, Iqbal, goes to talk to Tyler’s father, he is shot, by Tyler’s dad.  He ends up in a coma in the hospital.  During all this Zara is crushing and pursuing a relationship with Chloe, who has just come out to her parents.  Zara’s family is very accepting of Zara being bisexual, and take Chloe in when she needs a break from her conservative Christian family.

Tyler’s dad is well connected in Corpus Christi, and while Iqbal recovers, he is faced with trespassing charges.  Although trespassing is a misdemeanor, by pleading guilty and paying a $200 fine, a criminal record will further complicate their citizenship status, and where they call home.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it shows how messed up legal immigration often is. Dr. Hossain is the victim, he is shot,  he is a vibrant member of his community, but is being forced to leave and uproot his family.  The issue however about trespassing isn’t ever completely clear, the reader is never given a play-by-play account of what happened that night.  I wish we were.  It would be nice to not leave that area gray.  Also a lot of what lead up to Tyler causing Zara so much trouble is rather glossed over.  I wanted to hate him and be angry with him, and then be forced to examine how much was his doing and how much was his father’s, but I never really felt that emotion until the book told me to be mad.

I vaguely recall from the book that she is in a religious high school, the inside flap when I took the picture (see above) seems to stress it more than the story does.  She does mention that they couldn’t start a Pride Club, but I wish she would have talked a bit about being Muslim in a Catholic school, or better yet, shown the reader.  She doesn’t come right out and say that all Muslims are different and this is her.  I wish she would have, instead she talks a lot about being annoyed at having to explain why she doesn’t pray and fast.  Yet she never tells the readers why she doesn’t.  She goes to mosques to counter Islamophobic protests, and talks of going to Sunday school to learn Arabic as a child, but she is very clear that she was encouraged to question religion and God, but not what she found or why she still identifies as Muslim if she doesn’t believe it.  I was curious if she doesn’t believe it actually, why fast at all? If she is still questioning, why not say that.  I really felt that Islam and being Muslim was just a box to be checked to justify the hate crime, but really, she could have just focused on the culture.  There are Urdu phrases, and lots of foods mentioned, she clearly loves Pakistan and talks highly of it and often points out the good and bad in both Pakistan and America.  Food is in the book a lot, and not just Desi food, frozen yogurt is a crutch for the story, and it gets a bit annoying.  I wish there was as much character development as there was food detail and banter.

I liked that her parents defend and stick up for their daughter.  Whether you accept the lifestyle of Zara and her family or not, it is wonderful to see families stick together.  The nosey aunty got put in her place and if you have ever had to deal with the stereotypical aunties or the threat of what everyone will say, you had to cheer for Zara’s parents.  I don’t care what your thoughts are about LGBTQ+, that scene was awesome.  Great job Iqbal and Nilufer.  It was one time that Nilufer got to shine, I really don’t get why Zara’s mom is relegated to the cooking, feeding, worrying stereotype for much of the book.  I lost track of the number of times the book says, “no need to worry your mother,” or something to that effect.  The lady clearly is loving and strong, but doesn’t get developed, and it is frustrating.

The ending is a bit abrupt, yes time is ticking, and whether to move to Pakistan or stay and fight the system is definitely not an easy decision, but how is Canada suddenly the magical answer? I assume for most it is enough, and being the OWN voice tale seems to be very close to reality in this regard, I have no room to roll my eyes, but Canada has civil rights issues with Muslims too, and this 2021 published book kind of made it seem like it is just the perfect answer to all their problems.

FLAGS:

Violence, bullying, Islamophobia, profanity, vandalism, crime, shooting, stereotypes, hate, lying, straight and lesbian romance, crushes, kissing.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would not work for an Islamic School middle school book club selection.

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

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more than just a pretty face

This book is a Muslim YA romcom OWN voice written by a Muslim male.  Woah, right? And the actual story, sigh (blush) I enjoyed it, and part of me is disappointed in myself for how much I enjoyed it.  Most of the characters are Muslim and all over the spectrum in their religiosity so to speak, there are a lot of jokes at the expense of tenants in Islam and trivializing of certain concepts which really isn’t something to celebrate, but it reads real and there is a lot of Islam that is front and center and deep and though provoking. For most non Muslim readers, I’m sure 15 or 16 and up would be fine with the content and 353 page length, but as a former Islamic School Librarian, I’d have to reserve recommendations to college age.  The protagonist is 19, there is talk of sex, but not crass, the main female character has a past that includes a sex tape, and there is a lot of language, but its also really funny and really relatable and really sweet and takes place in high school.

SYNOPSIS:

Danyal is a pretty face, but he isn’t very bright.  He goes to an elite private school though somehow, and while he is admittedly dingy, he is also very kind, innocent and generous.  He was held back at some point in school and is 19 as a senior in high school.  He works in a French restaurant and dreams of being a chef.  He has no desire to go to college and as the only son of Pakistani immigrants, they are not thrilled with their son’t future plans.  Danyal is pretty chill about it though and his mom wants to arrange his marriage, and he is willing, although he is crazy in love with his friend’s twin sister.  He is religious and hasn’t really broken any of the Islamic relationship rules, he prays fajr, and just kinda floats through life doing the best he can and forgiving himself and others when they mess up.

When his mom arranges a meeting with Bisma he is willing to get to know if they are a match.  She however, fully discloses her past to him when they head out for coffee, which involves her rebelling, once a few years earlier, against her father and going to a party, further rebelling and getting drunk and then making the poor and regrettable choice to sleep with someone.  To make matters worse, the event was video taped and spread around the community forcing the family to move.  Bisma is pretty religious and really studious and really sorry, but her father and most community people don’t let it go.  Danyal thinks that is stupid, one mistake shouldn’t haunt her forever, unfortunately he doesn’t think chivalry and pity are enough of a reason to marry her as he doesn’t think they are meant for each other.  Basically, he is still really crushing on Kaval.  So he and Bisma decide to be friends.

When Danyal’s history teacher in a fit of spite nominates Danyal for a prestigious Renaissance Man competition, Danyal calls on Bisma for help.  The topic is Winston Churchill, the beloved British leader, but Danyal quickly learns he is not beloved by most Indian subcontinent people.  Kaval offers to help so that Danyal can win the competition, impress her parents and then maybe give them a chance.  But, suddenly Danyal doesn’t know if that is what he wants.  He wants to be himself, he wants to be accepted, he wants Bisma.

WHY I LIKE IT:

You know how it is going to end, you don’t know entirely how it is going to get there, but you know where it is headed, yet the book is still compelling and fun.  Between the banter of the religious friend, and the no longer religious friend, the advice the French Chef bestows on Danyal and Danyal’s complete and utter cluelessness to everything, the book is really warm and the characters really like-able.  I dislike the stereotype of the “religious” character, but the other side characters are better developed.

On occasion I think Danyal’s stupidity is over done, he isn’t an idiot, he just isn’t book smart. So when he doesn’t know what “break a leg” implies for example, it seems a tiny bit off.  I know his friends say he isn’t funny, but I think he is hilarious, especially with his commentary on the Desi community.  “It is the curse of brown boys everywhere.  We either die young or we live long enough to see ourselves become uncles.”

The role of Islam is incredibly prominent, and the characters understand what it means to be Muslim differently.  Sometime I agreed with them, sometimes I didn’t, sometimes the characters didn’t agree with each other, sometimes they did.  There is a lot to think about: destiny, Allah’s mercy, Qalb-e-saleem (a pure heart), caring for the less fortunate.  Even politically there is a strong thread of colonialism, which the characters wrestle with and with being immigrant’s children.   There is a lot packed in, but it flows so smooth and the writing rich with authenticity, that quite often I would laugh out loud and read various lines to my young children.

FLAGS:

Talk of sex and losing virginity, but not detailed, just stated.  The chef is a lesbian.  There is lots of language including the F word, not thrown in effortlessly, usually for a reason, and often reprimanded.  There are a few kisses on the cheek and lips between Danyal and Bisma, but in a Disney princess movie sort of way.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Not for middle or even high school book club. I don’t think that it is a completely “halal” romance story, but I think I wouldn’t be concerned if juniors and seniors were reading it, I think they would love it, and I might just have a few that I want to suggest it to…

 

More to the Story by Hena Khan

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More to the Story by Hena Khan

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For a book written by an accomplished author for 3rd to 7th graders focusing on a Muslim family, I was surprised at how despite wanting to absolutely love this book, I only kind of liked it.  For the first 100 of 271 pages, I really kept hoping there was going to be more to the story.  Luckily the story did pick up, but I couldn’t get passed how much crushing all the sisters were doing on the one boy in the story, and how much stronger I wanted the main character to become.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from Jameela, “Jam’s” perspective, the second of four daughters living with their parents in Georgia, the story focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the members of the family and their parents’ close friends who’s nephew has moved in with them from England, Ali.  All the kids are close in age and of Pakistani ethnicity, and are Muslim.  As the reader gets to know Maryam, Jam, Bisma, and Aleeza, you see the characters develop pretty well and their quirks and personalities emerge.  Jam is more tomboyish than the gorgeous Maryam who likes to bake.  Jam and Bisma share a room and are closer than Jam and Aleeza, the baby of the family who Jam finds is becoming a brat.  Jam also enjoys watching football and eating spicy food with her dad and desperately wants to be an award winning journalist like her grandfather.  She puts out a family newsletter and is ecstatic to be named the feature’s editor as she starts 7th grade.  Ali is a year older and has moved to stay with his aunt and uncle until his mom and sister can join them.  He spends a lot of time with the sisters and in Little Women inspired fashion the little ones want his attention, Jam is a little jealous to learn he finds himself tongue tied when talking to the beautiful Maryam and Maryam in 9th grade is drawn to Ali, but doesn’t vocalize it too much.  And then as the story picks up speed, Jam says, “In a matter of weeks, Baba got a new job and moved across the world, Bisma got sick and has to be in the hospital, and I messed up everything with Ali and the paper. How did my whole life get turned upside down so quickly?”  

The rest of the book is dealing with Baba working in the Middle East, Bisma being diagnosed with lymphoma, Jameela learning some journalistic basics, and Ali and Jameela becoming a bit more than just friends. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that a Muslims desi family is being represented in an own voice novel that mentions religion as a natural part of their life, and doesn’t apologize or overly explain it.  That being said, I feel like the book is trying to present “us” to the outside so to speak, rather than empower our own.  And I point this out, because I feel like it could have done both.  Dialogue between Ali and Jameela about how they might date as they get older, how Ali can’t see any of the sisters having an arranged marriage.  How when Maryam gets asked to a dance her mom doesn’t mention any religious reason her daughter should say no.  None of the girls wear hijab, and they mention that they don’t wear hijab, at one point Jam knows she should get up and pray, but doesn’t.  I don’t expect a fictional story to teach our upper elementary age kids how to behave that is a parent’s job, but to have some basic Islamic tenants brushed aside after being mentioned is worth noting.  Had the book just been more cultural, maybe I wouldn’t be so critical, but Muslim girls are going to be excited to see themselves in this book and some of the messages might tilt a little more liberal than some parents would expect.  It is one thing when our girls read a book with a romantic twist and we say that, that is not for us, but when a book celebrates us not just crushing, but vocalizing those crushes and moving in to a gray area (they hug but it could be an innocent friend hug) and they make a point to be next to each other, Muslim parents should be aware.  In the larger society it wouldn’t even register on the radar, hence I point it out.

Another thing that kind of bothered me and was again related to Jameela and Ali’s relationship was that when Jameela cut her hair in support of Bisma losing hers with chemo treatments, she seems to need Ali’s approval.  I get that she wanted him to see her and all that, but I really wanted her to be strong enough in and of her self that even if she looked awful she would own it and not let it define her and not let a boy’s opinion about her physical appearance weigh that heavily on her.  Again I know 4th grade girls start noticing boys and having crushes and middle school is only worse, but I just was hoping that her strength and confidence would come from her own growth arc, not from someone else, let alone someone she likes. Side-note here too about the hair, it is donated to make a wig, which I know might also be a sensitive subject regarding if that is allowed in Islam or not.

In terms of the cancer and the sister’s rallying together all that I thoroughly enjoyed and found the most interesting passages in the book.  I think the understanding of a real subject and finding a way to help and deal with this was executed expertly and powerfully without sensationalizing the concern or simplifying the experience either.

FLAGS:

The book is clean, but there is a lot of mention of how Ali affects the girls.  And potentially depending your own opinions on the hair being donated.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, I’m actually hesitant in even recommending it to my 12 year old daughter.  I know she has read worse, but again me handing her a book about Muslim girls might make her understanding of what we expect regarding boy/girl interactions to be a bit muddled.

 

 

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Yes! Yes! Yes! A strong and relatable 2nd grade, Pakistani-American Muslim girl, with stories written on a AR 2.4 -2.5 level, learns lessons and grows in everyday scenarios.  Seriously, this book is overdue and so well done, I can’t wait for the author, illustrator, and publisher, to team up to do more.  The book I have, Meet Yasmin! contains all four stories: Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin the Painter, Yasmin the Builder, and Yasmin the Fashionista. You can buy each of the books separately in a larger format, and possibly a longer story.  The version I have is 5.5 x 7 and 96 pages long which includes a Think About It, Talk About It section at the back as well as a glossary of Urdu words, some facts about Pakistan and a recipe for Mango and instructions to make a bookmark craft .  The individual stories are 6 x 9 and 32 pages, and whether you buy the collection or the individual stories, they are under $6. Fabulous all the way around.

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SYNOPSIS:

Yasmin the Explorer:  The book starts out with Yasmin’s dad telling her about explorers and maps.  Inspired, Yasmin decides to make her own map of the neighborhood, which gets really exciting when her mom asks her if she wants to join her on a shopping trip to the farmer’s market.  While they stop at different stalls and Yasmin adds to her map, the temptation of a playground draws Yasmin away from her mom, but luckily her map can guide her back.

Yasmin the Painter:  Yasmin’s school is having an art competition and Yasmin is nervous because she doesn’t consider herself a very good artist.  Her parents show her videos and gift her supplies.  Unhappy with how her attempts are turning out, she decides to find her own style and with the support of her parents she enters her painting and waits nervously to see who wins and what the mystery prize is.

Yasmin the Builder:  I think this story is my favorite because she really had to rely on herself when the class is building a city and Yasmin can’t figure out what to build.  She perseveres and works hard, and ends up connecting the dots and making the city come to life by finding a way to make her favorite part of the city, going for walks, a part of the class project.

Yasmin the Fashionista:  Mama and Baba have gone out for the evening, so Yasmin is hanging out with her grandparents.  When Nani and Yasmin play dress-up and Mama’s shirt gets ripped, Yasmin and Nani have to solve the problem!  Not only that, they get inspired to transform Yasmin’s pajamas, and when Mama and Baba come home they are treated to a fashion show!

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WHY I LIKE IT: 

There is a lot to love about these stories.  Yasmin is not great at everything, and things don’t necessarily come easy for her.  But she is bright and surrounded by people that love her, and she is allowed and encouraged to shine in her own way.  I like that her painting wasn’t great, and that she stayed in from recess to figure out what to build.  I love that her dad is involved in her projects and ideas as much as her mom, if not more.  I love all the little nuances that accurately show a Pakistani-American family and a Muslim one; not an exaggerated version, or a dumbed down one either.  Yasmin has to wait for her mom to put on her hijab, it doesn’t explain that she isn’t wearing a hijab in the home, but it is shown.  It shows the characters in ethnic clothes and in western clothes.  It shows Yasmin’s classmate building a church, and one building a castle.  Yasmin is spunky, she makes mistakes, she works hard, and she is a breath of fresh air, that I think kids of any and all backgrounds will relate to her and enjoy the stories.

The pictures are bright and colorful and detailed. They are age appropriate and make the chapters within the stories really come to life and keep new readers engaged.  The font and binding and layout is well done.

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FLAGS:

None.  

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TIPS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I honestly think little kids could read this and discuss it and might actually enjoy having a discussion about Yasmin: what they like about her, what things they have in common, what she does that makes them laugh.  It might come across as a girl book, but really, it isn’t she is relatable for everyone. 

There is nothing Islamic mentioned, just depicted in her mother’s and grandmothers hijabs.

 

 

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou

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For a book about magic, featuring a girl who admittedly knows very little about Islam, a surprising number of tidbits sneak through and work to introduce Islam and Pakistani culture to those unfamiliar, while similarly exciting Muslims readers who can see a major climax point a mile away and get to feel “in” on the unavoidable “aha” moment.  Written on a 4.9 level this 297 page book, is clean and engaging, a rare combination, especially for advanced readers who are having a hard time finding books that are content appropriate.  I’m fairly confident that anyone, of any age, who reads this will learn something, whether it be about lepidopterology, violins, occupation and partition of the subcontinent, Rudyard Kipling, caskets, friendship, Islam, and finding a place to belong.

SYNOPSIS:

There are three main storylines in the book, Leila’s, Kai’s and The Exquisite Corpses’.  Leila is a Pakistani-American girl growing up in America who decides to visit her Pakistani dad’s family in Lahore for the summer.  Unfamiliar with the language and customs, she has a good attitude of learning as much as she can, and absorbing new things.  Her dad’s family speaks English, is not very religious, is wealthy, and pretty modern.  They have servants, and drivers, and while she gets to go to museums and landmarks, the lifestyle is partially simplified for reader understanding, and partially to not take away from the real point of the story: Leila moving out of her sister’s shadow, and finding comfort in her own multi-cultural skin.  

Kai is spending her summer with a great paternal Aunt in Texas that she has never met.  Her father passed away and her mom has recently lost her job, so a change of scene is what she is presented with.  Her Aunt is a character in and of herself, but by and large leaves Kai to her own devices and supports her adventures from a distance.  The real story for Kai is a budding friendship with the neighbor girl, Doodle who is determined to find and save a rare moth no longer found in the area.  Nervous to make friends Kai learns sometimes the value of things isn’t in the winning, or being the best, but in doing something because you enjoy it and it is the right thing to do.

The two girls story is tied together by them finding two parts of a magic book, The Exquisite Corpse.  The old book tells the story of Ralph T. Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle, in bits prompted by the girls’ own writings.  Like the game of writing a few sentences, folding over the page and having the next person add to the story, the book connects the girls and the readers in a tale that is as much about the two long ago sweethearts, as it is about families, overcoming obstacles, and believing in happy endings.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is told from various voices, and as much as the story is plot driven, I truly felt connected to the main characters.  The only magic is the book, so the realism is very critical to gaining the readers interest and thankfully once you read about 70 pages or so I feel like the book does suck you in and take you for a fun ride.  The first few chapters are a bit confusing and I wasn’t sure where the story was going, Finally, at my 11-year-old daughter’s prompting I had to just barrel through without asking and wondering too much.  You don’t find out about Kai’s mom and dad or how Rudyard Kipling and “Kim” tie in to it all, almost until the end.  I like that the author doesn’t talk down to the reader, and as a result I learned a bit about so many things.  The twists and interweaving of stories and characters, and things as random as moths and music and saurkraut, remind me of well written adult novels that often aren’t found in books for fourth graders.  

Their isn’t much religion in a doctrine or even practicing sense, but through culture some is learned and shared, and I like that it isn’t completely washed out or removed.  The main character’s father says that he wasn’t religious in Pakistan so when he came to America he wasn’t about to start.  Leila mentions that her mom wants him to take the girls to the mosque or to see Eid, but again, they don’t, but do celebrate Christmas.  So, when she is in Pakistan and sees masjids, and fakirs, and people feeding birds as a sadaqa it is a nice inclusion.  Especially because the vocabulary is used and explained.  She mentions that her extended family goes for Jummah, yet doesn’t pray five times a day, she also touches on Ramadan as being a time of fasting but doesn’t know that there are two Eids.  As she learns, the reader does too.  It definitely isn’t how any practicing Muslim would want Islam portrayed, but it isn’t disrespectful and it is realistic.  Again, because the author doesn’t seem to talk down through her characters, there doesn’t seem much judgement and thus, hopefully also shows most readers some diveresity to the Pakistani stereotypes in the media.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean, the love story between Ralph and Edwina, is just that they love each other. Nothing more than a sweet sentiment.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would definitely use this book as a Book Club selection because I think there is so much to connect to and discuss.  It would be fun to do as an interfaith book club with kids for the same reason.  While the main characters are girls, I think boys would enjoy it as well, there is some spying, sleuthing, action, and a whole goat debacle, that I think would be a blast to explore with students.

I don’t see any online reading guides, but there is so much to discuss it won’t be a problem.  Enjoy!

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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amina voice

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.

SYNOPSIS:

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.

FLAGS:

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/