Sway with Me by Syed M. Masood

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Sway with Me by Syed M. Masood

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This author won me over with More Than Just a Pretty Face, and his ability to celebrate and show flaws within our desi cultures while simultaneously presenting relatable Islamic experiences in a romantic comedy.   I have been yet to determine if this YA/Teen 328 page book follows in those footsteps, or cuts a little too critically and close on the Islamic presentation.  Undoubtedly the story is hard to put down, culture and Islam are present, but I don’t know what the lingering taste of Islam would be for a non-Muslim reading the book.  Would they see the faith separate from those that practice or actively don’t practice, would Muslim readers?  Literature is quickly showing how Muslims are not a monolith, but I worry that that nuance might be lost in this particular book, and the takeaway would be far more stereotype affirming, than critically thought provoking.  The packaging of the story is memorable characters and quality writing, even if the plot and purpose is a little shaky at times.  I admit for as much as I crave discussions on representation and twists and defined characters, this book has me at a bit of a loss on how to feel about the book overall.  I think it is possibly the first time I just haven’t seen myself and my experiences mirrored at all in a book with this much Islamic content. As a reviewer it makes me feel useless, but as an American born Muslim, I kind of love the uneasiness and challenge that my head is trying to wrap itself around.  The references, the language, lust, plentiful innuendos and physical abuse make the book a solid high school and up read.

SYNOPSIS:
Arsalan lives with his 100 year old Nana in Sacremento.  His mother has passed away, and his father is out of the picture in Arizona as he attempts sobriety.  Homeschooled and isolated from other kids, technology, and the world around him, he suddenly finds himself in a public high school trying to make his way.  Afraid that when his Nana passes he is going to be all alone in the world, he reaches out to the stepdaughter, Beenish, of the community match maker to see if she can help him with an arranged marriage.  She agrees on one condition, he dances with her at an upcoming competition.  He agrees, but first a makeover is required and before you know it a romance is blooming.  Awkward and formal and ever the gentleman, Arsalan uncovers that there is no competition, the dancing is required to break up Beenish’s sister’s wedding.  The girls’ biological mother was a dancer and the shame it brought on them all as it destroyed her career, her marriage, and the family has made her daughters the black sheep of the family and community.  The stepmom wants to get them out of the house as soon as possible and thus dancing of any kind is forbidden at Qirat’s upcoming nuptials.  Beenish despises the groom and hopes her dancing will not only remind the family that the mom has been banned from attending the wedding, but also hopefully prevent the wedding from taking place.  As the story moves forward with learning to dance, relationships must be reconciled, friendships developed, and growing pains felt, with some sass from Nana at every turn, more than one character will have to learn to make hard decisions and accept the outcomes that result.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Right from the start Arsalan makes it known that he is not a practicing Muslim, that he is “nominally one.”  His Nana has raised him to be a skeptic, his abusive father would beat him when feeling religious and guilty for his alcohol consumption, and his deceased mother was more spiritual than disciplined.  So, for the next few chapters, whenever Islam was mentioned I would snap a picture.  Twenty pages later and dozens of pictures of text made me stop and realize that this coming of age book is not a story about Islam, but rather the characters are dealing with their own identities and Islam just happens to be present, for all of them.  Arsalan remarks how our roots shape us as he quotes hadith, ok paraphrases them, and discusses sahaba, eventually having to accept that knowledge and wisdom and truth must be recognized, even when it comes from a source that he doesn’t favor.  Similarly, the most presenting tough guy, music and sports and appearance obsessed character is always hanging around the mosque, at the MSA, and encouraging Arsalan to come and pray.  The love interest calls out Muslims for their fake religiosity saying that her stepmom wears it as a fancy dress, she owns it, but takes it off when she wants.  Her father came to Islam late, and is relatively strict and conservative as a result, she is Muslim, but more culturally as she doesn’t seem to have sorted it out herself.  The characters dance, which involves touching and immodest clothing, at the end they do kiss.  There is language which is noted as being course and vulgar, and there really is no “model Muslim” or any characters that want to be.  So, similarly there are no haram police commenting when the characters, as individuals seemingly step out of line.  The sister character is quote unquote religious, but I don’t know if she covers, she doesn’t seem to be representative of anyone other than herself and she has her own cultural family issues, so her Islam is just stated, but not explored.  Some only eat halal, that gets included but not really opined on.   It really is the first time I feel like I’ve read so many Muslim characters in one place that represent only themselves, which is very much real life, but also a shift in Muslim rep in literature.

The story has some foundational issues which made me laugh when reading the author’s note that says he, “writes in the dark.”  Meaning he doesn’t know where he is going until he gets there.  I think it might show in this book more than he realizes. Aiza Aunty is shamed as scandalous because of her dancing in Lollywood (Pakistan’s version of Bollywood, which is India’s version of Hollywood) films.  She apparently got her sari a bit too wet in a waterfall scene, and it was too much shame to rebound from.  So why did that ruin her life? I mean any production has rehearsals, and blocking, and post editing, and retakes, why does one scene seem to fall squarely on her shoulders, every single decision maker along the way passed it through.  I’m not buying it.  I also don’t buy the whole wedding is hanging on a single thread of dancing, it tries really hard to make it make sense, and by the end the reader really is just prepared to go along with it, but holding auditions, not planning to tell Qirat, really is expecting the reader to suspend reality just a tad more than the genre should be asking one to do.

The book is smart and it expects the reader to be smart.  The references the character’s personas and need to be seen and loved is not always spelled out, it has to be pieced together and I love it.  The Thanksgiving scene, the misfit members of each family coming together and bonding with Nana and Arasalan is sweet, but actually really sad, and I love that it doesn’t say it, it shows it.

Of all the characters I love Diamond the most, I just wish we knew more about what motivates him.  He reads too nice and too puppy doggish and I wish we got just a bit more to see why he is the way he is.  Truly all the characters are memorable, and I’m pretty sure they will stay with me for a while.

FLAGS:

There is kissing, romance, crude language, lots of sexual innuendos, physical violence, physical abuse, child abuse, death, shaming, manipulation, alcohol addiction, religious zealousness, dancing, intimate dancing, body objectification, music, singing.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I could never teach this book, but please, please, please, read it and help me to understand how I feel about it.

Pizza in his Pocket: Learning to be Thankful to Allah by Jawaad Abdul Rahman illustrated by Natalia Scabuso and Johera Mansura

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Pizza in his Pocket: Learning to be Thankful to Allah by Jawaad Abdul Rahman illustrated by Natalia Scabuso and Johera Mansura

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I didn’t think the old version was falling short, but I had to have the new one, because well, I’m a mom.  And sometimes songs that have stood the test of time really do translate perfectly to story books that are engaging, memorable, and so fun.  I can’t get through it without singing it, but the new pictures do force me to slow down and look at the maps and the points of interest that have been included.  Ages two and up will love the book, older kids will enjoy the nostalgia, parents will beam at the words getting stuck in everyone’s head and the lessons making their way in to real actions.

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The new book is slightly different than the original, but more inline with the online videos by Zain Bhikha and his son.  The back of the book has an ayat from surah Al-An’am and reinforces that while the song is fun, the foundation of not wasting and sharing with the poor is an important part of Islam.

A great book to read over-and-over again and one that is universal enough to be shared with Muslim and non Muslim children alike.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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I started to read this book to myself, abruptly stopped, gathered my children around, and began again aloud.  This 40 page early elementary picture book isn’t just counting up and down with silly scenarios and outrageous details, it is familiarity with a culture often not represented with universal humor, appeal, and anticipation. This rhyming book begs to be shared: one-on-one, at story time, or in a classroom.  There is so much joy and connection that I’m ready to felt-board the story, march into my kid’s school and demand an audience.  I found mine at the library, but I think I am going to order it because it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf to be read again and again.

Musa and Dada get in a daladala and are off to the crystal blue waters of Zanzibar.  But it is hotter than peppers out and the kind driver is offering everyone a ride.  First is the old man with his seatless bike, then it is two little goats and their herder, next is vendors with their three baskets of fruits.  Each time Musa cries and protests that there is not room for anyone else, let alone their stuff.  Yet when everyone wiggles and scoots and smooshes, there seems to be room for everyone.  This continues until there are ten scuba divers joining the smelly fish and stinky chickens, umbrellas and milk pails.

Alhumdulillah, they reach the beach.  Then one by one they all get out at Nungwi beach.  Giggles and wiggles and Musa and Dada are off the minibus and swimming in the cool waters. Alhumdulillah indeed.  The book concludes with a glossary and an author’s note.

Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi

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Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi

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I began reading this book not having any idea what it was about. All I knew, or all I cared to know, was that the incredibly amazingly talented Reem Faruqi wrote it, so I wanted to read it. While I know it will be hard for most to avoid knowing the plot, I think it was a blessing that I was able to be swept away so completely and so fully in a story that is wonderful and memorable, and truly sets a higher standard for the way that a story can be told. Faruqi’s voice and authenticity had me in tears. I didn’t even realize my eyes were dripping until my son asked me if I was ok. It wasn’t the plot that had my emotions spilling over, sure it helped, but it was the storytelling, the hadith and deen and snapshot of a life so unlike my own that simultaneously is exactly my own that a physical reaction emerged. It is the power of OWN voice storytelling. It is the power of brilliant writing. It is not just a book about a Muslim character, this book blurs the lines for me between Islamic fiction and fiction with Muslim characters. Middle school readers (mature middle grade readers) will enjoy the book, older readers will enjoy and appreciate the 336 page story told in verse. You can pre-order the book and I hope you will, it helps convey the message to publishers that this book is highly anticipated and that we need voices like this. Additionally, Goodreads currently is hosting a giveaway, you can head there to try and win a free copy.

(If you don’t want to know what the story is about, maybe skip the next section.)

SYNOPSIS:

Aafiyah’s name means well-being, protection, health, money, happiness, everything good, but Aafiyah has secrets too. She is privileged and loved, and she knows it, but sometimes when she sees something she likes she accidentally borrows it. Sometimes it isn’t an accident. Sometimes she doesn’t just borrow. Much of her life is wonderful, a best friend that lives next door, doting parents, tennis, vacations, trips to Pakistan to visit grandparents, and a love of “weird but true facts.” So what happens when all that changes. When her grandfather gets sick and the family wants to bring him to America for treatment, when Aafiyah’s dad gets detained and imprisoned on the way home, and Aafiyah’s secret may be a way to help her family?

WHY I LIKE LOVE IT:

I absolutely love that the characters are so well rounded and developed. Yes, Muslims have vices, and even young practicing Muslims have tests and struggles. The bar has been raised, we aren’t just a monolith, and our only struggles aren’t girl/boy issues, alcohol, not being oppressed and getting an education, we are complex people, we are human. The bulk of the story is Aafiyah growing up: her responsibility within her family, her changing body and appearance, her friendships, her responsibility for her actions, her desire to want to help and improve and step in to her own. I love that all these layers of life somehow are explored in such sparse lines. It doesn’t drag, but it gives the necessary pauses to involve the reader in her logic and view of the world. Aafiyahs’ kleptomaniac tendencies, her father being detained, her grandfather’s illness. they all move the story along, but they are foils for a much more intimate character story. A story that is surprisingly funny and light and impossible to put down.

I absolutely love how Islam is woven in, how she exudes Islam in all that she is, because she is a Muslim completely, the good and the bad. The guilt she feels, the desperation to be forgiven, the knowing that Allah swt sees all. The book is never even close to being preachy, but she proudly owns her identity and the details of her faith are not watered down, or even justified, it is who she is and it isn’t up for debate.

Culture is presented unapologetically as well. She is critical of things she sees in Pakistan, and similarly celebrates and admires good things about Pakistan and Pakistani culture. The book does not seem to have an agenda in presenting Muslims or Pakistan as good or bad, just as Aafiyah sees them. Which isn’t revolutionary on the surface, but it really is refreshing because it highlights how many books simply don’t. It makes the contrast painfully obvious between books that are shy about certain things, when they have their characters deflect and disassociate from certain “realities” and books that confidently uphold their identity and demand that the reader steps up and truly see the characters and their experiences.

There is a beautiful and raw author’s note at the end that shares some of the inspiration for the threads of the book, a glossary, a recipe for Aloo Gosht and resources for help with kleptomania.

FLAGS:

Stealing, lying, chatter about crushes, music, dancing. Being attractive and the reactions that it gets is woven through out.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I have a majority girl group, I will teach this. It isn’t a girl only book, but I think some of the more subtle themes would need a safer girl space to discuss.

Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

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Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

I share this book from 1996 to show how far we have come in telling our own stories with accuracy and emotion, as well as to celebrate those that featured Muslims in a positive, unapologetic light when there wasn’t a standard yet established. It is easy to harp on the negative, but truly the only way forward is demanding better of ourselves and of our representation. The book is disjointed-pulling in random details to focus on, and is very text heavy, slow, and dry. It does feature a Muslim family, though, and shows both Abdul (albeit in his underclothes) and his father praying salat. The text even mentions thanking Allah (swt). I honestly have been searching for past Islamic representation or mention in mainstream juvenile fiction, it fascinates me to see where the seeds first were planted: Sport by Louise Fitzhugh (1980) has a one line mention of a character being Muslim, Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird (1991), Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1997), Ruhksana Khan’s The Roses in My Carpets by a Muslim about Muslims(1998), The Hundredth Name (1995) by Shulamith Oppenheim.

Abdul is a seven-year-old little boy in Freetown, Sierre Leone. He sells oranges so that he can pay for school. School is not free, and selling oranges requires a lot of patience to save up enough to return to the classroom. One day he returns having not sold any, and his grandmother reminds him to be patient and to try a new market. His mother tells him to take his little sister Maryama with him. She is five and slows him down.

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In the evening Abdul’s father prays in their yard and then tells them about an upcoming parade to celebrate the anniversary of their country’s independence. Abdul’s mom will be in the parade. After more days of low and no sales, Abdul worries that school is a faraway dream. Maryama however, sells some oranges for him and he dares to hope he can sell a lot at the stadium and during the parade.

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Momma is marching in the parade, the family watches her. Abdul gets tired of waiting for her afterward and walks him. His dad has a good day of driving his taxi for people trying to get to the stadium and home from it. At the end of the day, they count up their money and there is enough for Abdul to return to school.

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The final page shows Abdul praying and thanking Allah for the oranges to sell, the taxi passengers and for patience. I have no idea why he is wearing an undershirt and underwear while he prayers, clearly his awrah is not covered, nor does it radiate reverence.

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The point of the book is to humanize another culture and perhaps make western children appreciative of their life, the ability to attend school, and not having to work from such a young age. The book I checked out from the library, doesn’t show that anyone in 1997 until today, or at least whenever the library switched from the stamped dates to electronic ones, ever checked out the book. And while yes it offers very little to the catalogue of memorable books of our time, it does show the early indications of our presence in literature.

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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I absolutely love how smart this book is, and how it allows for elementary aged readers to feel that “aha moment” when they read it, get it, and realize that they need to remember the lessons because it could happen to them.  The illustrations are an added bonus and are perfectly aligned with the tone and text of the story.  My only issue, is the title.  Pitches reads as a euphemism for another word and since the book involves girl drama, teasing, and misunderstandings, it really is hard to not have that thought zap your brain when you see the title.  Perhaps if the “and Other Problems” would have used a bigger font on the word “Problems” the alliteration would have been more obvious, and hidden the word “Pitches” a bit.  If I’m alone in this, I apologize to the author and publisher, (I’ve mentioned my concern to them), but for others that saw the word and questioned the content, rest assured it is about baseball and the book doesn’t have even a speck of questionable content.

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Amira is at a new school, and luckily it is Tuesday, Pizza Tuesday to be exact, and she can’t wait to dive into a cheesy slice.  Unfortunately, Olivia takes the last cheese piece and when Amira asks if she will let her have it, Olivia says she had it first.  Stuck with an egg salad sandwich that smells, Amira sits alone and broods.

In gym they are playing baseball, but no one knows how good Amira is, and she is picked last.  When Amira is up to bat, Olivia is the pitcher and her pitches are terrible.  Amira still mad about lunch and afraid that the others will blame her for not hitting the unhitable balls, shouts, “you’re supposed to aim at my bat.”  Everyone laughs, but Olivia runs off clearly upset.  The new pitcher sends a decent throw and Amira hits a home run.  The captain of the team praises her, and Amira is hopeful she’ll have someone to sit with her at lunch.  After class, Amira sees Olivia crying in the bathroom and no one asking her if she is ok, Amira doesn’t feel so well, and doesn’t ask either. On the bus ride home Amira is greeted with cheers for her home run, but Elena the captain, isn’t among them.

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The next day is picture day, and Amira trips and rips her shirt.  Everyone laughs, Elena says, “it was an ugly shirt anyways.”  Only one person offers her help.  Could Amira have misread the whole class dynamics?  How should she move forward?

Sorry, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the message about owning up to your choices is stressed, along with making kind decisions, and sometimes needing to take a step back and understand things from someone else’s perspective.

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Like nearly all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf books, the story is universal, but the characters, illustrations, and point of view is a relatable Muslim one that allows our young Muslim readers to feel seen and celebrated.  The reliable large glossy pages make the book a great deal for your money and is available on the publisher’s website: http://www.ruqayasbookshelf or from my favorite bookstore http://www.crescentmoonstore.com

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Could Be Anything! by Eman Mouneimne El Ayoubi illustrated by Victoria Romanenkova

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Could Be Anything! by Eman Mouneimne El Ayoubi illustrated by Victoria Romanenkova

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This is not normally a book I would review because it will read like paid endorsement, which it is not.  It is a 32 page personalizable book, that I’m highlighting because it exemplifies a concept of Islamic literature, that is often lacking.  We have numerous books teaching Islamic concepts to toddlers and preschoolers, but forget to teach the secular concepts through an Islamic lens.  We often have a bookshelf of Islamic books that include learning to say Alhumdulillah, and the names of Allah swt; and a bookshelf of non Islamic books that features stories about dinosaurs, monster trucks, and being silly.  This book reminded me of how important it is to have books that do both.  Not to necessarily preach, or even teach, just to merge the two shelves and present a singular framework of Islam, a way of life, not just a religion to our youngest believers.

Sure the name and customizable appearance is fun, but deeper than that, learning about different careers knowing that Allah swt created all of us to do so many worthwhile jobs is a great lesson to be sharing.  The larger concept of teaching Qadr to our children is only presented on the back cover of the book and can be implemented by using the parent guide at the end of the story.

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The book starts with asking what you want to be when you grow up and informing the child that Allah swt has a plan for us all.  Each page after then mentions the child’s name, introduces a career, and ties back to that Allah swt has written, or decreed something for us.

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The highlighted careers vary from being a parent, to an astronaut.  A teacher to a chef, a mechanic to a dentist.  There is no priority, nor opinion on one career or job or hobby being more important or more valuable than another.

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The pages are bright and colorful and the paperback book thick and sturdy.  I did struggle with the word “could,” and often would self edit as I read and would change it to, “Ayub ‘can’ be anything.” I’m not sure why the diction is what it is, but it reads incorrect to me.

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The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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This 30 page preschool to early elementary aged book is a simple rhyming book that reaffirms all the places we can pray and touches on those that we shouldn’t.  The engaging illustrations and relatable scenarios make the book a great choice for bedtime stories and small group readings.  

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The book starts out with a hadith, “The entire earth is a masjid (place for prayer), except the graveyard and the washroom” (Tirmidhi-317) and points out that one must pray five times a day. Screen Shot 2021-11-17 at 11.37.00 AM

It establishes that if you pray it a mosque you can follow the imam, but not to worry if you cannot, because you can pray (nearly) anywhere: a field in the rain, school, a train, a garden, a shed, even when sick you can pray in your bed.

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It then also turns to places you shouldn’t and can’t pray and sources a hadith about not praying where there are faces and statues that might distract you (Bukhari 374). The bathroom and graveyard are also included.  

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As an after thought, and for added laughs it reminds little readers to not pray in dangerous spots as well.

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Overall, I enjoyed the book and can see it pairing with In My Mosque to help create the foundation of a storytime theme about prayer and mosques.  The fact that it takes it a step further and doesn’t just list all the places serious and crazy that you can pray, elevates the book from being mediocre to being memorable and I appreciate that.  I also appreciate the Islamic sourcing, truly something that is required to show accuracy even in the “simplest” of all books.

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Salaam, with Love by Sara Sharaf Beg

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Salaam, with Love by Sara Sharaf Beg

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This 288 page YA contemporary Islamic romcom is very Islamic centered, and the storyline provides some nice twists along the way.  Unfortunately the writing is terrible.  Not the storytelling or even grammar per say, but the contradictions, errors, underdeveloped characters, and the inconsistencies. Yes I read an uncorrected proof, but this book is a mainstream major publisher presented book coming out in a few weeks, and it is in desperate need of some attention.  I really don’t think it is the author’s fault, it reads as if this was a manuscript that got shopped around and picked up and then never refined, polished, and made to sparkle.  The only saving grace is that as terrible as it is literary wise, once the main character starts to get over her “internalized islamophobia” (thank you @bintyounus for bringing this concept to my attention), the book as a whole presents a lot of unapologetic specific Islamic content on every single page: how Eid salat is different than normal salat,  the beauty of tajweed, the meanings of so many duas and surahs said regularly, the list goes on and on and doesn’t just cover the basics.  The flip side is that the characters are in a band that performs Islamic songs, but with instruments and everyone is fine with it, there are artists in the book drawing faces and portraits hang on walls, it is a romance, but it at most an arm or hand is touched and when tropes about Desi college choices are pushed back on the parents break the stereotype and relent.  There are threads of cultural-ism within Islam, Islamophobia and a violent near death experience, but the book is very clean and  honestly has a lot of potential, I have no idea why it is so sloppy.  SO SLOPPY, and I took notes, so buckle up.

SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen year old Dua is an only child and her doctor father and caterer mom are the only Pakistani and only Muslims in their small Virginia town.  They decide for Ramadan that they are all going to go and stay with family in Queens, New York for the whole month.  They have given Dua less than 48 hours notice to plan to spend the end of her summer with cousins she hasn’t seen in five years.  The parents hope that Dua will benefit from being around family, being closer to other Muslims in the month, and enjoy the cultural environment.  Dua is not excited, but when bear hugs and genuine smiles meet her at the door, she is sucked in to a bustling house and the happiness and drama that is bound to unfold.  Sharing a room with her older, law school bound cousin Mahnoor is by far the hardest relationship to cultivate.  Newly engaged, Mahnoor is quiet, reserved and deeply unhappy.  Dua makes little progress, but with Ramadan starting and her cousins setting goals for the month, Dua is determined to do better in all aspects of her life.  As she gets close to Mahnoor’s best friend, Haya, she also gets closer to Haya’s brother Hassan.   It is Ramadan though, and she isn’t good around boys, but Hassan is a hafiz and is helping her reach her memorization goals for the month, Hassan is also in a band and needs Dua’s help.  When Mahnoor’s engagement is called off to Haya and Hassan’s brother, everything comes to a standstill between the families, but when a cousin is shot, the families come back together to support one another and deal with their decisions and their outcomes.  By the end of Ramadan, every character has changed and grown and is sad the month is over and that Dua and her family are leaving.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Suffice it to say I love how Islam centered it is. I honestly checked the publishing information because of how much Islamic content is included, also for the amount of errors.  The book did not start off well for me with Dua trying to separate herself from her “religious” cousins.  The ones who practice communally and wear hijab.  She was not like “them” and the dichotomy of measuring religiosity as acceptable or not, too much or too little, enrages me.  It sets up that she practices Islam but in a relaxed manner and has been taught by her parents, and it is who she is, but it isn’t a huge part of her life.  As the story progresses, it seems that she just doesn’t know a ton of surahs, she actually is pretty religious, and devout, it is very awkward and not presented clearly, which is why I attributed it more to her being in denial or embarrassed by her identity, not about her level of belief.  Dua is also not like-able, she is incredible privileged and arrogant commenting on the size of houses and rooms, and her shoes.  About half way through she starts to comes across as clumsy, not sure then why is she always wearing heels.  Ultimately she is just not well-developed and often reads like an annoying helpless child.  The framing of Dua being a musician and not being so religious is quickly questioned as she gifts her cousins music paraphernalia, and looks at portraits on their walls.  If most are like me, and both families are praying, fasting, reading Quran, active musicians and artists and ok with hanging pictures, one would assume they are pretty in-syc with one another on their religious views and in practice.

Dua is not the only character that is poorly voiced, fractured, and inconsistent.  Her parents are so unrealistic and awkward in the beginning I physically cringed reading them telling her their reasons for going to New York.  In the car on the way, they even quiz Dua on her cousins names.  She hasn’t seen them in five years, she isn’t a toddler, she should know their names, she has clearly purchased incredibly personalized gifts for them, and is filled with detailed memories of when they all met up in Pakistan together, the whole scene is pointless. One of the cousins, Ibrahim, is blind and Dua says that a few years ago her parents had to explain to her what it meant to be blind.  Seriously?  I get the learning how to let him take the lead and how to interact, but you as a teenager didn’t know what it means to be blind? When you met him in Pakistan you didn’t know he was blind? The four year old cousin is cute and adorable, and has the vocabulary and mannerisms of a seven or eight year old at times, most times.  The 12 year old cousin has the wisdom of an old uncle and why do none of the adults in the book seem to work?  The book probably should have started at chapter five, it seems the book hits a bit of a stride that at least makes it readable.  

A huge plot of the book is the band, Sheikh, Rattle, and Roll, but the details about it are terrible.  Mahnoor is walking out the door and her mom tells her to take Dua.  The reader doesn’t know where they are going, but Mahnoor reluctantly agrees and they head out on the subway.  Mahnoor constantly is telling Dua to hurry so they aren’t late and miss it, when they arrive, the band performs one song and that is when Hassan and Dua and Haya all meet.  But the other two band members are her cousins, she is staying in their house.  What? Rabia is constantly talking, that is her character quirk, how does Dua not know that they are performing? Not know they are in a band?  No way would it not be mentioned.  And why only one song? That is so random.  At the end when they perform again on Eid, it is a concert, it is again only one song.  A concert is not one song.  Do they not practice or load up equipment, how is all this going on in one house and Dua is so clueless? 

The inconsistencies are aplenty.  A few examples: it says her cousin doesn’t wear make-up, a few chapters later has a whole face of make-up, on Eid she even does Dua’s make-up.  When they all are sitting down to write their lists of plans for Ramadan it says they don’t have to share their lists.  Yet a few lines later Dua is singled out in a very creepy way to share hers.  In a single paragraph it says that at home she prays fajr half asleep, or late and in a rush before school, but concludes the description by complaining that praying in congregation is more difficult for her to focus in.  Huh? praying while half asleep or in a rush gives you more focus than praying in jammah?  Even non Muslims are going to be scratching their heads.  At one point as Dua is trying to figure out what she wants to study and if she wants to start an MSA in her high school, since she is the only Muslim, she internally discusses how she wants to prove herself to her parents.  Then when she decides what she wants to do for her, she remarks that she isn’t just doing it to prove to her parents, but because she wants it for her.  The only problem is, no where have we seen or has it been established that her parents are requiring this proof.  

There are odd errors as well.  The athan on a phone goes off, the Uncle reaches in to his pocket for his phone and turns off his iPad.  That is a big pocket indeed.  Dua gifts Hassan a CD, really a CD? What is this 1999? Who gifts CDs in 2021? Dua starts playing a keyboard in someone elses house and no one mentions it other than the two people with her, how big is the house that you can’t hear it? The Uncle gets upset that Dua doesn’t pray Asr right at time, but a lot of people prefer Asr specifically to be prayed later within the time frame.  In a two chapter frame it mentions letting out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding three times, word for word the same.

I was genuinely surprised that music being questionable was not brought up at all, two of the bandmates are huffaz.  The author lets her own qualifiers slip in, perhaps her own desire to not take a stand that could seem alienating.  She says, “allegedly” the time right before iftar is the best time to make dua.  As Dua tries to figure out what is going on with Hassan she often remarks how it is hard or confusing “especially because he is Muslim.” Would a relationship with a non Muslim be ok, less hard, more hard? There is no lowering of any gazes, which for as religious as everyone in the book is, should have at least been mentioned even if not adhered to.  The book puts on odd stress on tasbeehs and kufis, not sure why.  

I do like the genuine love the characters have for Islam, Allah, Ramadan, salat.  It is so much a part of every thing they do, and it is lovely.  I also love Dua’s friend in Virginia, Kat, she is fasting in solidarity and wants to join the MSA even though she isn’t Muslim, but a seemingly amazing friend.

FLAGS:

The on-gain-off-again engaged couple do touch hands at Eid prayer.  Hassan touches Duas arm when she is perceived as helpless.  There are anti Islam protests and an angry man shoots Adam.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If the sloppiness gets resolved, the book could be used as a high school book club choice.  Those girls love them some halal romance, and this book is incredibly religious and clean. 

A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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This book combines knowledge with a sweet story and a spunky narrator.  Over 32 brightly illustrated pages the reader learns about the art of dyeing yarn, weaving, and the tradition of weaving saris in India moving from Mysore to Kaithoon in Kota.  The little girl loves it all, helping her father dye the threads, and watching her mother work the loom.  It often takes a month to make a sari, and her mother makes beautiful saris, but she never wears them.  With the help of her older sister Sadaf, the little girl hopes to earn enough money to gift her mother a beautiful sari to wear.  It will take a lot of work, some community help, and some sacrifice, but Ammi is worth it and the girls are up for the challenge.  Preschool to early elementary readers will enjoy learning about the daily life of these amazing Indian Muslim artisans and a craft that they perhaps were not aware existed.

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The buffalo are sleeping, but in the afternoon Abba is busy dyeing threads, and mama is weaving colors into prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers.  The whole family helps.  Abba goes to the haat to sell the completed saris.  Sometimes Mama goes as well, but she doesn’t wear the saris, she wears worn-out salwar-kameezes.

One day, when Ammi finishes a particularly beautiful sari the little girl asks her to keep it, but her Ammi says, “If we keep the saris, how will we eat?”  The little girl doesn’t understand, they don’t eat saris.

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Sadaf explains to her little sister that the only way their Ammi will wear a sari is if they buy her one.  So the little girl breaks her bank apart to count the money she has and convinces Sadaf that the things they wanted with the money are nothing compared to how much they want something for their mother.

But Sadaf says they only have enough money for a towel, not a sari, so the girls gather some items to sell to the junk man.  They have enough to buy Ammi a duputta, but still not a sari.

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They wander home through the wheat field trying to come up with other money raising ideas.  The wheat remind the little girl of worshippers on Eid day- all praying together at the mosque.  The little girl remembers that sometimes their neighbor Amina Khala purchases dyed threads from them and they rush over to see if she has any work for them.  Luckily she does, and they have just enough to buy a sari for Ammi and be rewarded with a smile and tears from their beloved and talented mother.

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The book has an information page at the end about The Saris of Kaithoon, as well as a glossary.  The story ends a bit abruptly, but the teardrop in the illustrations, the hugging, and the smile, do provide a universal relatability to parents everywhere when their children gift them something so genuinely from the heart.  The illustrations also show women with their heads covered going about their daily life.

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