I thoroughly enjoyed the voice and playfulness of this 144 page early chapter book. Mary Khan is a hoot as she navigates third grade, her Pakistani-American family, and the politics of birthday parties. There is not a lot of Islam sprinkled in, save a few salaams, but the mom and Dadi wear hijab which is mentioned in the text and in the illustrations. Culture is presented warmly and her current stresses are not tied to her faith or background. There is mention of witches and churrails, and she calls her sister one too, some lying, and numerous over the top efforts to be helpful as “Operation Help the Khans” is put in to action. Nothing a first or second grader won’t be able to handle or understand, and a great series in between the author’s Yasmin books and her Must Love Pets series.
Marya’s birthday is two days after her neighbor Alexa’s, her rich spoiled neighbor who is also in her class, and in her seating group. The youngest of three kids Marya often feels that no one listens to her, and her wanting a birthday party this year, is met with the same dismissal in her eyes. Aliya is a teenager and Salman, who she calls Sal to her grandmother’s chagrin, is in 5th grade, so Marya often finds herself hiding out in her Dadi’s room watching dramas in Urdu that she doesn’t really understand. When she sees a birthday on the screen with henna, a band, and an elephant, Marya doesn’t want just any old party, she wants it all.
Every year Marya’s best friend Hana comes over for pizza, cake, and a sleepover, but when Alexa hands out beautiful invitations to everyone at school, Marya says she too is having a party, a henna party. Hana knows something is up, but it is full steam ahead for Marya as she devises a plan to convince her family to allow it to happen. With her mom’s flower shop busy with an upcoming wedding, there are lots of ways that Marya can help around the house, and then her family will have to let her, right? If only something could work out as Marya plans. Then to top it all off, Marya starts to feel bad for the annoying Alexa and in a moment of kindness invites her to her party. It will just be boring pizza and cake, but if Marya can be nice to Alexa, perhaps anything is possible, and there might be more surprises in store for them all.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the vocabulary calendar words thrown in and the fertilizer smell that permeates all. The story line might not be the most unique, but the silly disasters and the spunk of Marya make her endearing and the book enjoyable. I love that the stress isn’t her culture or religion, she is a Pakistani American Muslim and she has concerns that all kids have, everywhere. I also love that the mom owns her own flower shop and is passionate and successful in her work.
One thing I didn’t quite get was why henna is called henna in the book and not mendhi? There are desi food names included, I wish it would have also maybe had a conversation in the book explaining that it is called mendhi in Urdu, but they are calling it henna. I love that Dadi doesn’t like Salman’s name getting shortened and that mom’s hijab is remarked upon in a normative way.
I probably shouldn’t like the comments that Marya makes about her sister, but I laughed, and yes she is cheeky, but it is funny and love filled, I hope. She also makes mean comments about Alexa, but the growth arc shows improvement and reads real.
Name calling, lying, teasing, mention of jinn, birthday, bands.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Too young for a book club, but definitely preordering for the school library.
Thank you to Netgalley and Amulet Books for the arc. You can preorder your copy HERE