Hena Khan’s newest middle grade novel is inspired by Little Women and follows a family of four sisters—Maryam, Jameela, Bisma, and Aleeza—living in Atlanta.
Thirteen-year-old Jameela (aka Jam) wants to be a journalist and make a real change in the world. She’s frustrated with the fluffy pieces that her editor-in-chief at the school newspaper is publishing. When she meets Ali, a family friend who has moved to Atlanta from the UK, she thinks this might be her chance to write an award-winning story. But things don’t go quite as planned. On top of that, her dad has taken a job across the world for six months, and then the family receives some scary news about about Bisma.
I really love Jam’s character: she is fierce with the world and supportive and protective of her sisters. She is brave, speaking up for what she knows is right and going after what she wants. She uses her strengths to make her family’s lives better.
This book takes its inspiration from Little Women, but Alcott doesn’t get in the way of Khan’s writing at all. Despite being familiar with the original story, I was able to tune it out and enjoy More to the Story on its own. After I finished reading the novel, it was easy to connect the dots, and I really appreciate the way that Khan imagined Little Women in contemporary times. I also liked the way that the original story inspired the family dynamics in this book: the closeness between Jam and her dad, the support and protectiveness between the sisters, and the close relationship between the mom and dad.
Something that I didn’t care for was the budding romantic feelings between eighth-grade Ali and seventh-grade Jam. In this age group, not every story needs to include romance, and I dislike it when the reciprocation of feelings is linked to some kind of validation.
As far as the Muslim representation goes, I’m always happy to see Muslims represented in literature, and I know that representation will take many shapes, as it should. In More to the Story, the family is a Muslim family of Pakistani descent living in Atlanta. Although the parents don’t drink alcohol and the girls don’t date, only the mom tries to pray regularly. This is definitely one way that people practice Islam in the US, and it deserves a place in literature. But every time a book is marketed as about a Muslim family or is published by an imprint focusing on Muslim stories, I feel hopeful that this book will reflect the Muslim American experience of my community. And I’m usually disappointed. Only S. K. Ali and Uzma Jalaluddin have reflected that experience, and it’s not nearly enough. So while I appreciate More to the Story and I believe that Hena Khan is playing a vital role by representing her community, it’s on publishers to make sure there’s a variety of Muslim experiences being represented.
I recommend this book for readers who enjoy middle grade and are interested in Muslim rep, Pakistani-American rep, or stories about cancer, microaggressions, or ethics in journalism.
I received an eARC of More to the Story from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.