Yaseen’s Big Dream

Yaseen’s Big Dream is a cute picture book by Umm Juwayriyah describing the dreams of a young Black protagonist. At night, when he goes to sleep, he doesn’t just dream random dreams, but he dreams his wishes, hopes, and aspirations for the future.

He dreams that he is “a hero, a friend, a helper, a builder, the barber shop owner, and even the prayer leader at his masjid.”

One night, he dreams that he is the President of the United States for a day. As president, he feeds the homeless, tours schools to talk to kids, and plays (and wins) a game of celebrity basketball. And yes, of course Yaseen and his family pray the night prayers in the Oval Office.

This dream is the main plot of the book, and although the lack of a conflict left me feeling cheated out of a story, I like that this book shows a boy daring to dream to the furthest reaches of his imagination. He places himself in roles that are big and small but that all have one thing in common—service. He is an empowered and empowering character to share with our children, and I’d love to see more books (with actual plots) featuring his adventures in the future.

The writing is sweet and often lyrical. That made some redundancies, grammatical errors, and awkward phrasing extra annoying to me. I find that sort of thing unforgivable in a book that is meant to be read aloud over and over and that is meant for children who are learning to read. I also don’t want my children to learn that the Islamic products in our house are of a lower quality than mainstream secular products.

The illustrations, by Azra Momin, are soft, whimsical, and really lovely. They show Yaseen at work and asleep.

The message of this fun book is “dream big!”

Find it here: Goodreads | Djarabi Kitabs Publishing | Amazon.com

Thank you to Djarabi Kitabs Publishing for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Tower

The Tower is Shereen Malherbe’s newest contemporary novel. It takes place in the UK and is loosely based on the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died when the social housing complex was destroyed. This quiet and contemplative novel is told from the alternating points of view of two women who move into the building from very different lives.

Leah is English. Her husband died last year, and she has been living with her parents in their posh Kensington house while still in the fog of her grief. She can’t get along with them any longer, however, and she moves herself and her son, Elijah, to the tower, which is the only place they can afford.

Reem, who is pregnant, is a recently arrived Syrian refugee who has been placed in the tower. She suffered some kind of trauma during her journey and has lost most of her memory about how she arrived in the UK. She remembers being on a boat but only has a vague memory of the shoreline. Her next clear memory is of waking up in the hospital. She was traveling with her brother, but they were separated, and her priority is to find him. Over the course of the novel, the mystery of what happened to her and her brother is unraveled.

Leah and Reem become friends at first through Elijah, who is friendly with Reem, and then when Leah helps Reem register her brother as a missing person. As the two women get jobs and try to settle into their new lives, their friendship grows.

Even more than being a story about their friendship, this is the story of the building. From the opening scene, we understand that this isn’t a typical building. As Leah stands on the curb watching the taxi disappear, two men arrive to carry her sofa upstairs. She initially thinks they’re stealing it, and then, when she realizes the truth, apologizes profusely. But the residents of the tower have built a real community: helping each other with the furniture is the least of it. They also grow a garden, hold weekly meetings to discuss important issues, and host a community iftar every Ramadan. They are an odd assortment of people thrown into a building together, but they have good intentions and have built relationships around their commonalities, and that aspect of the story was really beautiful.

The Tower addresses themes of poverty, racism, immigration, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. The short chapters told from alternating points of view make it highly readable; I devoured it in a single day. I also loved Reem’s character. She practices both the spirit and the letter of Islam on the page, which is undeniably refreshing. Despite a few plot holes and bits of background that I wished were explained, this original and moving novel is well worth a read.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Find it here: Goodreads | Beacon Books | Amazon.com

Thank you to Beacon Books for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret

The Seville Secret is the second installment in the Ayesha Dean middle grade series by Melati Lum. It follows Ayesha, a hijabi Australian teenager, as she travels and solves mysteries with her friends.

In The Seville Secret, Ayesha goes with friends Jess and Sara and her Uncle David to Spain. He has business to attend to while the girls go on holiday. On the plane, they meet Kareem, who is going to Spain to look for his grandfather, who disappeared while studying some ancient jewels. Ayesha offers to help, and adventure ensues. View Post

It’s Not About the Burqa

“We are not asking for permission any more. We are taking up space. We’ve listened to a lot of people talking about who Muslim women are without actually hearing Muslim women. So now, we are speaking. And now, it’s your turn to listen.”

It’s Not About the Burqa was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and it did not disappoint. One idea that comes up again and again in this anthology of essays by Muslim British women is the idea of superficial representation. Muslim women are being embraced by advertisers everywhere these days, but they are only welcome insomuch as they tap a new market for revenue. But as soon as one of these women wants to express an opinion—about global justice or racism or life—she is no longer welcome. This anthology pushes back against that kind of representation, and in it, seventeen women stand up and speak their truth. View Post

Internment

A YA dystopian novel set in a near-future US where Muslims are placed in internment camps? Yes, please! (If this premise sounds outlandish to you, then perhaps you aren’t living in the same world I am and/or you’ve forgotten about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Excluding an entire class of Americans based on unfounded fears happens to be a part of our history.) Samira Ahmed’s Internment creates this hypothetical world, and it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019.

Bravo to Ahmed for writing this book, and I’m glad to see that it’s doing well in the YA market. I enjoyed seeing a beautiful tafseer of ayah al-kursi in a book put out by a major publisher. I hope readers of all backgrounds will see parts of themselves in the Muslim characters and have important conversations about oppression and silent complicity.  View Post