This book is part of a series that claims to want to bring the world closer to American children. It is based on a true story, with noted liberties taken regarding the protagonists, and yet the Author’s Note says she went to Indonesia and was unable to meet with the characters whose lives the book is about. I am not against non Muslims and non Indonesians per se writing a book about Muslims in Indonesia, nor am I naïve to the fact that music inspires many and radicalism is a real threat, but to conflate ideas without explanation, and not containing that OWN voice authenticity or biography feel, really leaves this book fighting against self made stereotypes and trying to seem woke and relevant while maintaining a very Western American paradigm of what it means to be happy and fulfilled. The book (and series) may have had good intentions, but it just felt off to me, and with a publisher suggested reading age of 5-8, I think this book assumes too much about the readers prior understanding of hijab, Quran, Indonesia, music, heavy metal, radicalization, small village life, culture, Islam, Quran, imams, and prejudice and fails to assist in connecting the concepts, opting to use them interchangeably and ultimately making the 32 page book rather pointless. I think if older children read it, it is one of those books that makes one feel like they are cultured and supportive of those breaking stereotypes, but I think Indonesian and Muslim readers will just be confused about why a book is supporting sneaking and lying and why music is ok, but loud metal is not, and why a Muslim teacher could have a band years before, but the current characters are receiving backlash now, amongst so many other things.
The book starts with basic information about Indonesia: Java, Jakarta, religion, and the motto. It also includes hijab as something some Muslims wear but does not detail why or what it entails. It then introduces the reader to three girls that go to school and study Quran, as the pride of their parents and village. The girls feel something is missing and while they are “studying” they in reality are often secretly watch YouTube videos after learning about the heavy metal band Metallica from their teacher.
The girls want to learn to play, but fear their parents will get mad, why they would get mad is not articulated, so they go to their teacher and whisper their passion for heavy metal “as if they are confessing a sin.” Their teacher, Pima, says she used to play in a metal band, and that they can use the instruments in her garage to learn and practice.
So while their parents think they are studying, they are playing music. The book says music is not against their dreams, not against Islam, they choose to wear hijab, they start to write their own lyrics, and their teacher arranges for a producer to come listen to them. The girls worry the imam will get mad and so will their parents. When a local interview airs, the teacher asks negative folks, “who says a girl in a hijab can’t play loud music? Does the Quran forbid following your dreams?”
Pima regrets letting the naysayers deter her from her music dreams, but earlier said her band broke up when the members moved or got married. The parents seem fine when a festival in Jakarta is about to happen and presumably they live happily ever after.
The backmatter then throws in radicalism and Muslim feminist groups, and I’m not sure what the takeaway would be for Muslim or non Muslim children reading this book. I admittedly haven’t read the other books in the series, but I would be skeptical of their portrayal of cultures and religion after reading this one, it isn’t so much that it is wrong, but it just seems to water the reality down to make it more “palatable” and “acceptable” to American children which results in strong themes of “othering” and dismissal.