Review—Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

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Escape from Aleppo is a middle grade novel by N.H. Senzai about one girl’s escape from the Syrian city of Aleppo when fighting reaches the city.

The novel opens with Nadia being awoken in the early morning; her family are finally leaving the city for good. She hasn’t left her house since she was injured by shrapnel from a barmeela that exploded nearby while she was on line for bread. As Nadia hesitates before exiting the building, a bomb goes off, separating her from the rest of her family. They reluctantly move on, and she spends the rest of the novel trying to make her way through the city to the Turkish border where her father is waiting for her. Continue reading

Review—Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Why did I read a YA romance novel? Oh yeah, because I thought it was something else.

Love, Hate & Other Filters follows seventeen-year-old Maya. She comes from an Indian Muslim background and is at odds with her parents. They want her to go to school close to home, become a lawyer, and make a suitable match. She wants to go to NYU, study film, and chase after her high school non-Indian crush.

I am glad this book exists because it represents one of the many kinds of Muslims in the US. Maya’s family are a cultural kind of Muslim where they are VERY Indian and also Muslim. Unfortunately, the representation here has serious issues with it. One thing is that her parents’ portrayal could not have been any more stereotypical. There was zero nuance to it. (The one part of the parents’ portrayal that rang true to me was the ending.) Also, Maya doesn’t seem to be struggling with her Indian-ness or her Muslim-ness; she’s struggling with her parent’s Indian-ness and Muslim-ness. And while Maya expresses a respect for her parent’s culture, she doesn’t once grapple with her intentions as a Muslim. The fact that she’s Muslim never plays into a single one of motivations. In that sense, I found the way this novel was promoted frustrating. Maya’s crisis with her parents is one part of the story. Continue reading

Review—Sadia by Colleen Nelson

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This YA novel is a heart-warming story about a group of female Muslim freshmen in a Canadian high school. Sadia, Nazreen, and Amira are busy figuring out how they fit into the world. The novel is told from Sadia’s point of view: she is strong, empathetic, and loves basketball. The rules for the tournament might mean she might not get to play in her hijab, and she doesn’t want to take it off. Nazreen is Sadia’s best friend and seems to be growing apart from her—hanging out with a new friend, constantly talking about boys, and de-jabbing at school. The new girl Amira, has just arrived as a refugee from Syria, and Sadia is trying to help her adjust. Sadia is about making friends and banding together to bring about social change. By the end of the story, all of the characters are working to change the world. Continue reading

Guest Review—Seven is Special by Shagufta Malik

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I decided to get my 7-year-old’s opinion on this book, which she really liked.

Did you like the book? I loved the book, because it talks about how grownups are patient with their kids, and how kids can face difficulties.

What happens in the book? The little girl’s name was Maryam. Maryam was packing for umrah because she was going to get to go. But her mom was gonna get a baby. But then Maryam was screaming and kicking because she didn’t want the baby. So they didn’t go to umrah, and she was very mad and then her mom got really sick so they took her to the hospital. After four or five times of going to the hospital, Maryam’s mom got the baby.  

What was your favorite part? Maryam and her baby brother have the same birthday.

Do you think your friends should read this book? Yes, you can learn how to face difficulties, and learn Maryam’s lesson, and learn things you haven’t heard before, like that someone sick cannot go to umrah.

Which was your favorite picture?

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Review—Seven is Special by Shagufta Malik

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Seven is Special by Shagufta Malik is an early chapter book about 7-year-old Maryam. The book opens with Maryam really excited about a trip she’s taking with her mother and father to umrah. I won’t say any more than that to avoid spoilers, but I was a little disappointed with the direction this took. While a lot of themes are dealt with in this book—growing up/maturity, family, sickness, dealing with disappointment, umrah, fitting in—there is no real narrative arc to speak of. Lots of smaller events happen during the book, and Maryam reacts to them, but the lack of a single unifying plot line to bring everything together didn’t work for me. Continue reading

Review—Bismillah Soup by Asmaa Hussein and Illustrated by Amina Khan

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Bismillah Soup is one of my favorite picture books about a Muslim child. It is a delightful story about a boy who uses positivity and hard work to bring his community together and overcome adversity. 

The Story. Hasan, a young Somali boy, knows his mom has a lot of problems. His dad is away for work, and they are down to the last few grains of rice in the bag. An electricity outage means a lot of their food has spoiled. Hasan, eager to help his mom, promises they will have a huge feast that night. She is perplexed, but Hasan runs off with his optimism in tow. He goes to the masjid and explains his problem to Shaykh Omar, who offers a pot and a bag of rice, and assures him, “Say Bismillah, and I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

This is the beginning of a beautiful tale about one boy’s perseverance and faith in Allah. Based on the classic story Stone Soup, it has a Somali flavor: his parents are his Aabo and Hooyo, and there are muufo bread, samboos, and bananas. Continue reading

Review—Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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WHAT IT IS: Amina’s Voice is a feel-good middle grade novel about a 6th grader who deals with issues of fitting in and gaining self confidence.

Amina’s best friend Soojin is thinking about changing her name to Susan when she becomes an American citizen, and Amina wonders if she should try to fit in more, too. Emily, a former bully, wants to be friends with Amina and Soojin, but Amina is having trouble forgiving Emily for the past. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle is visiting from “back home,” and he questions her piano lessons and involvement in chorus—saying that music is not Islamic. To top it all off, Amina’s parents sign her up for a Quran competition. How can Amina recite Quran, which she’s not very good at, in front of everyone? Continue reading

Review—My Special Angels by Razana Noor and Illustrated by Omar Burgess

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I was so excited to see this book; I think that talking to children about the kiraman katibeen (the angels who write your deeds, good and bad) is a great way to broach the topic of accountability. Unfortunately, while the illustrations (by Omar Burgess) are absolutely stunning, the writing (by Razana Noor) didn’t work for me.

This 20-page picture book is written as a rhyming poem that is broad in subject, and the accompanying illustrations build on the poem to tell a specific story about a little boy. He tells us about the angels on his right and left who write down his good and bad deeds. They are always with him, and they will be for his entire life. We see him doing good and bad deeds. The first person narration is clever; we get a bit of the boy’s interiority as he struggles to do what he knows is right, and children can empathize with that. For example, “To stop the angel feeling blue, / There is still something I can do / Say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and try my best / To not do it again. That’s my test.” Continue reading

Discussion—Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

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WARNING: The following discussion contains spoilers! In other words, this post reveals what happens in the book. If you have NOT read Saints and Misfits, here is my non-spoiler review.

As I mentioned in my review, I absolutely loved this book. I found the realistic representation of a Muslim community spot-on. Janna’s voice was great. Ali weaves together all of the different subplots and tucks in the ends in subtle ways that I really appreciated. When a book is that awesome, the few things that I didn’t like or that I didn’t get stand out more. Continue reading

Review—Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

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I loved this book so much that I’m splitting the conversation into two parts—the non-spoiler review that follows, and a spoilery discussion of the book, which you can find here.

Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali, is the book that I’ve been holding my breath for since I was fourteen years old. It perfectly captures what it’s like for Muslim teens growing up in America—trying to practice Islam when they’re still sorting out what the shape of that Islam is and how it fits together with the rest of their life.

The novel opens with Janna Yusuf in the water at the beach, scanning the coast to choose the perfect moment to come out—when no one is paying attention to her and her awkward burkini. She emerges, water squelching out everywhere and the black fabric getting covered in sand, only to be berated by her dad, “Janna, why do you have to wear that thing?”  

It’s the perfect moment to describe the American-Muslim experience—young people caught between all kinds of rocks and hard places. Janna’s parents are divorced, and she is on vacation with her dad and her stepmom. He wants to know why she can’t wear a one-piece like the one Linda is wearing; Janna explains to her dad, “I’m a hijabi, remember?” Janna is caught between her dad, on the less-practicing end of the Muslim spectrum, and her mom and brother, who agree on everything. Continue reading