Rummanah Aasi
 I was both very excited and nervous when Simon and Schuster launched an imprint called Salaam Reads, a variety of books will be published "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." Books about religion are very tricky to write. Some come off as preachy and heavy handed. So it was with trepidation that I read Amina's Voice the first book published by Salaam Reads. Thankfully, it was a great book to debut and I really enjoyed it. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of Amina's Voice. Amina's Voice is now available in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Review: Amina's Voice is a delightful middle grade that focuses on the universal story of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. Amina Khokar is a Pakistani-American tween who is navigating the troubled waters of junior high. Amina is musically gifted, a talent that only her family and close friends know. She bonds with her best friend, Soojin, with having weird names that no one can pronounce and similar family traditions. Amina is now worried that her friendship with Soojin might be on the rocks. Now that Soojin is about to be granted citizenship, she is thinking about leaving her Korean name and adopting a much easier to pronounce American name, which Amina has mixed feelings about. Amina is also unsure of Soojin being close to Emily, whom Amina distrusts and feels unworthy as friend given how she ill treated her and Soojin at the beginning of the school year. 
  In addition to the worries of school, Amina is also dealing with family issues. Amina's family is hosting her strict, conservative Muslim uncle, who is visiting Wisconsin from Pakistan and who will surely comment on her family's lifestyle in the United States and point out all of their flaws like not speaking Urdu at home or playing music at home. In addition to these mounting problems, Amina's parents sign her and her brother up in a competition to recite the Quran at their local mosque. Stage-fright-prone Amina prepares for the competition. The vandalism of the local Islamic Center and mosque further heightens the turmoil in this timely coming-of-age story. 
  What makes Amina's Voice work is the balance between ordinary problems like those of school and friendship and of religion and culture. Amina's responses to both problems are emotional and honest. We watch her grow, learn from her mistakes, and become a better person as realizes that she misjudged Emily. Confronting her preconceived notions is again reinforced on a larger scale as her community comes together in response to Islamophobic vandalism. The author also gracefully addresses the difficulty of reconciling individual beliefs with those of others, especially those you love, as well as the complications that accompany the merging of cultures.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a small scene in which Amina's brother is peer pressured into smoking a cigarette.

If you like this book try: In a similar vein that balances ordinary teen drama with religion and culture try Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (recommended for Grades 7 and up).
3 Responses
  1. Go Simon and Schuster! I hope the series of books continues to be good, with universal themes so that all students will want to read them. I'll get our local middle schools to order this one.


  2. I love this! Glad to see S&S using their power for good. :) This one sounds perfect and I'd love to see more schools use books like this in their curriculum.


  3. That's awesome! This sounds like something my daughter might enjoy reading.


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