Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Maturity Level: 2
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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.
This is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. Period. It’s so sweet, and lovely, and heartbreaking, and thought-provoking, and kind, and cute, and just … beautiful. It’s a beautiful book.
Khan’s writing style is simple but lovely. It doesn’t come across as sparse or boring, but it isn’t overly flowery either. I was completely swept away with Amina and her story.
Amina is, dare I say?, the perfect protagonist for a middle-grade book. She is insecure and struggling with her identity, like many twelve year-olds, and she makes plenty of mistakes. But she has a good heart and she learns from her mistakes. Amina is shy, but it doesn’t stop her from having a great personality when she’s at home or with her close friends. It think that’s something a lot of young girls will appreciate.
I loved how Khan wrote a book about the middle school experience, but that has themes that go so much deeper. The main plot arc is about finding your voice, being a friend, and adjusting to middle school. But Khan doesn’t shy away from difficult things like the immigrant experience, racism, even religion. Religion is handled with such nuance and compassion. Khan doesn’t talk down to kids, she knows that they are capable of handing discussions on differences in belief and practice, even within one’s own religion. But religion is a topic that doesn’t find it’s way into many adult books, and I was blown away by the ease with which she fit it into the story. I loved to see Amina’s Islamic Center working together with Soojin’s Presbyterian Church to make the community better.
The reading experience of this book was so moving. When Amina was anxious about her friendships I found myself remembering my own middle school experience. When her Islamic Center was vandalized I cried with her family. When she was mortified by sharing a friends’ secret, I felt my anxiety ramping up. I connected so deeply with this book.
Teachers, librarian, parents, you HAVE to make sure this book is in your libraries. It would make a great novel study for a class, otherwise kids will enjoy reading it on their own.