ARC Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Pub. date: March 14th, 2017
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481492065 
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Salaam Reads and Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Summary: Now that Amina is in middle school, it feels like everything around her is changing. Her best friend Soojin has started hanging out with another girl and is considering changing her name to something more “American”, her dad’s brother is visiting them from Pakistan for the first time so she needs to be on her best behavior 24/7, she’s forced to participate in a Quran recitation competition at her local community center, and she desperately wants to participate in the Winter Choral Concert but is too shy to sign up for it. Meanwhile, tragedy strikes as their mosque is vandalized, leaving Amina and her community utterly devastated. 

I haven’t read a lot of middle-grade fiction since well before middle grade ( I was the annoying kid that thought it was only cool to read ‘above’ her reading level and no adult told me otherwise), and it’s such a delight to pick them up and read them as an adult. Hena Khan has woven such a vibrant story with these babies at the heart of it, filled with warmth and leaving you with hope.

The first thing that struck me while reading this was how early in their lives non-white kids in the US and other white-majority countries begin to experience microaggressions and racial stigma. Their environment is made up of people that view them as “other”, including the white kids in their schools. Soojin’s story arc of wanting to change her name to one that would be easier for white Americans to pronounce particularly stayed with me. I didn’t even have to grow up in that kind of environment and three years of people in the States mispronouncing my name drove me batty, but to be a small kid whose environment moulds her into thinking the solution to the conundrum is assimilation (because of systemic white supremacy) is both rage-inducing and heart-breaking. I know a lot of people (in India) who make fun of desis in the States for shortening or changing their names, but they never ever take into consideration the extent of this name-fuckery that POC experience which lead to that decision. 

There are a lot of relationships fleshed out and explored in the story- particularly the family ties. There is a familiar ring to the conversations among members of Amina’s family. I loved that Amina and her brother are very supportive of each other. Amina is still at the cusp of adolescence and by nature quieter, but her brother is thrust into the chaos of self-discovery with basketball and peers on the one side and his parents and their expectations n0t to abandon his culture on the other side. This was extremely relatable, especially in the context of Asian families, and I don’t think that dissonance between these cultural values and what my parents called “modern thinking” ever goes away. At the same time, the parents are not portrayed unfairly- they’re loving, caring, and a little strict, but have their kids’ best interests at heart. The arrival of Amina’s uncle throws some complications in their first-gen family, and their khaatirdhari (hospitality) is so familiar. Guests are considered an equivalent to god, so even with family members hosts will go out of their way to make sure their guests are respected and always comfortable. 

Another thing that I was really glad to see was that Amina and her brother do not abhor or reject their culture. Often times second/third gen Asians are portrayed as rejecting, mocking or hating their cultures (said cultures are also portrayed as old-fashioned, whacky, or straight up weird), and this portrayal either seems like pandering to white people or just written from this white gaze. While Amina is probably a little too young and the typical rebellion we see against religion and culture is seen with older kids, it feels good to read about South Asians without the “backward” shadow. Culture and religion are complicated, and they’re a part and parcel of the Asian culture, so in reality it is almost impossible to disassociate from that without a thought. When crisis strikes with the mosque being vandalized, it is hard not experience horror at the event, especially with the story being built around Amina’s family and the extent to which their lives are tied to that community. However, it was encouraging to watch the community come together in the face of blatant Islamophobia, with the help of supportive allies, not to let the violent act tear them and whatever they’ve built down, leaving readers with hope at the end of it all.

The theme of identity and self-discovery are maintained throughout the book, and explored with the storylines of multiple characters. None of the characters were one-dimensional, and even with the multiple storylines, were written wholly human. This is a very empowering story, and exposing kids to stories like this one is very crucial if we’re to fortify them with the tools to be aware of diversity in experiences, backgrounds, and cultures and dismantle systemic bigotry. 

-J

 

Social Justice Book Club: February Wrap-Up and Announcements

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First of all, my sincere apologies for the delay- life has been really getting in the way of my plans for this month. 

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In honor of Black History Month in February, we picked The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and this was such a great opportunity to read it with the group. I knew very little about the life and work of Malcolm X. aside from the fact that he was a prominent activist for the civil rights of Black Americans. Even my high school education, which barely skimmed through American history, only mentioned Dr. King from that time, not Malcolm. Malcolm X. reminds me of Bhagat Singh, an Indian freedom fighter who also pushed for radical change and action, urging the people to be louder, and was pretty critical of Gandhi’s push for a non-violent movement at that time. Malcolm was far from flawed ( in fact, his opinion of women in the first half of the book made me want cringe so much), but much of what he said about the treatment of black people in America and how white people (in general) perceive the black man today is still so relevant. He learnt from a very young age that he had to hustle to survive, and that his existence had no guarantee in a world that could not see him past the color of his skin. He struggles with his identity and his roots and catches on very early to the social conditioning that black people have undergone to think that white people are superior to them, and how they’ve assimilated in order to survive. His experiences with women in his youth- oh boy. It’s also evident that his recounting of those stories as he got older is not without remorse- and I definitely believe that had he lived longer, his views would have been less sexist. A series of mistakes lead him to straight into prison, and it is during his time here that Malcolm engages in a lot of contemplation, and channels his rage and boredom into reading. (“The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” His relationship with Muhammed and conversion to Islam were fascinating, and one can see how as a disillusioned young man this was the crutch he needed, to discover himself, to have an identity, and to channel his rage about the injustices done to black people. I think it’s very easy for white people to read this book and go “oh wow he’s so angry!” or be uncomfortable with his animosity towards white people, and I think it’s important to sit with those feelings and remember that there’s so much baggage that comes with those feelings. It’s why, whether they admit it or not, white Americans will more easily celebrate Dr. King over Malcolm (King was just as revolutionary as Malcolm, but his push for non-violence is highlighted over his demand for action, casting Malcolm as “angry black man”.) There’s so much to unpack here on how Malcolm and King’s lives, messages, and legacies have been represented, and the discomfort white people experience with Malcolm’s confrontational approach, how that translates to the perception of black people in general and how nonblack people perceive movements like #BlackLivesMatter- I’m far from qualified to discuss any of these things, but these are things to think about and talk about, for sure. Malcolm never doubted that he would die violently, and he remains a contentious figure in American history. This autobiography is a crucial text to read. It is not only important as a tool to read Malcolm’s words and message, but also to be cognizant of where Malcolm’s anger comes from, the history of violence against black people, and how all of these are relevant in the movements we see today. 

Announcements:

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I’m sure you’re already aware that we’re reading Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario in March. I haven’t finished reading, but it’s been interesting to hear from those who have. We still have 11 days left in the month if you’d like to join us! Shoot me an email at theshrinkette@gmail.com to be added to the Slack if you’re not already in it. You can also use this sign-up form, if that’s your preference. Sonia Nazario has graciously agreed to answer a few questions from the group for a club Q&A, and her responses should be in by the end of this month. 

 

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Due to popular demand, we’re going to try hosting the book club on a monthly basis. For April, we will be reading Headscarves and Hymen: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy. Since each book’s discussion is being held in it’s own channel, members can opt in or out of the month’s discussion based on their personal preferences and schedules. 

 

 

-J

 

 

February 2017 Wrap-Up

Print/digital books: 12

Audiobooks: 2

Total number of books/comics: 14

Total page count: 3942

Read My Own Damn Books: 3

I’m an academic. It only takes a short to get to know me to know that I love data. I love looking at the numbers, it keeps things in perspective. It’s an objective measurement of behavior. In the year that I’ve been breaking down my reading numbers by month, this is definitely the lowest it’s ever been. I’m definitely disappointed by these numbers, but it’s good to have them. There’s a few reasons why- primarily because I’ve spent most of the month yelling on Twitter (sorry to my followers over there).

I’m going to try not to dwell on these numbers too much, and instead going to focus on actively choosing to read over doing other things when I have the time. Twitter isn’t going to stop being a trash fire, I have so many books to catch up on, blog posts to write, and we have three weeks till the big move. So, onwards and upwards. 

So friends, what did your February look like? What are you looking forward to reading in March? 

 

March 6th, 2017: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

So this is a pattern I’ve observed in my life. All my gadgets/electronics generally break down at the same time. I kid you not, I have anecdotal data to support this. It’s a reliable occurrence. This time, it was my laptop, phone, and Fitbit, literally all within the span of 48 hours. It was also during the time we had some family visit us, so naturally, nothing got fixed immediately, which is why I haven’t blogged in two weeks. I really, really need to work on drafting posts in advance because this mess has me even more behind on reviews, wrap-ups, etc. Anyway, in case you were wondering, that happened. But, I’m back, and working on getting some posts out this week to make up for the time I’d lost.

March is going to be a ridiculously busy month because we’re moving from Oman to India. I grew up here, this has been my home for the last 25 years, and even though I’ve known about this move for a while now I haven’t quite gotten around to process my feelings about it. I’m sure that’ll happen at the most inconvenient time possible, so meanwhile I’m also in the middle of sorting and packing for this move. Sidenote: If you thought moving was a pain in itself, try doing it with your parents. Where’s the alcohol when I need it?

Here’s a peek at what I’m reading this week: 

Guise, I’m so behind on ARCs. So behind. I have 21 left to read and review, and most of them have pub dates in the first half of the year. Say a prayer for me. But also, can I just tell you how many wonderful humans have been sending me books? It’s unreal. Everytime I get one from a friend I tear up. Bookworms are the best, and I’ll fight anyone that says otherwise.

Tl, dr: I need to catch up on ALL THE THINGS. Meanwhile, what have been reading and loving recently? Let me know!

-J