Book Review: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

Amina's Voice By Hena Khan cover

Amina's Voice
By Hena Khan
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: March 14th 2017
Level: Middle Grade
Rating: Warm and comforting 

I sometimes forget that Middle-Grade novels are written with a different pace in mind, usually. I had pre-ordered Amina's voice months ago but had forgotten that it was Middle-Grade. It isn't exactly hard to figure out the minute you start reading.  First of all, Amina is in sixth grade.  But I wasn't thinking that I was going into a Middle-Grade novel, so when I was surprised when started reading at how fast it went.  I finished it in something like two hours.

Amina is a twelve-year-old Pakistani-American girl. She loves to sing but is too shy to do it in public, has a best friend, and struggles with what growing up and being a middle schooler mean to her. In many ways, she an Everygirl.  It was refreshing as she is, of course, Muslim.  I can think of a few other books with Muslim characters, but an overtly religious Muslim girl who has been written by a Muslim woman is still something out of the norm.  Amina is an intensely realistic character who defies stereotype just by being ordinary. She was written by someone who innately understands her, and that is an important point. 

The power of Amina's character is that she is ordinary. Sometimes she gets jealous that her best friend is making friends with someone else. Sometimes she is accidentally mean. Sometimes she wants to play video games instead of doing her homework. She is put out when her parents tell her that her uncle is going to come to visit for three months.  Amina's ordinariness is also her greatest weakness as a character.  Sometimes her Everygirl-ness (making that a word) can read as boring. If she is just like every other girl why am I reading about her?  

This book also makes me realize that, as a reader, I am predisposed to be suspicious of overly and traditionally religious characters.  I have been thinking about this since I finished the book and I believe that it spans all religions including made up religions in fantasy novels.  For some reason, I have no issues with nebulous religiousness. Mentioning God? Fine. Praying. Fine. Wearing a Hijab? You are cool with me. But if a character starts talking about what God wants I am immediately suspicious. I don't think that I do this with real people. I certainly hope I don't. Anyhow, in books, this is usually an early clue that the character will be up to no good. Amina's whole immediate family and her religious community raised no red flags, but I spent a lot of time side-eying her uncle. Now that I know that this is something that I do I am going to have to snap myself out of it because that shit is not cute.  

Amina's Voice isn't a complicated story. I would be comfortable giving this book to elementary school students who have the necessary decoding skills. But the underlying theme of both finding your voice (in many senses of the phrase) and figuring our how to fit the fragmented part of yourself together is one that will resonate.  As you can see in this review, even as an adult reader my internal biases were challenged.  Reading should change you, and this book reminded me that sometimes when it works,  it changes you for the better.  I will be recommending this to students. 

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From Goodreads:

A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

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.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.