Tag Archives: secrets

House of Glass Hearts by Leila Siddiqui

Standard
House of Glass Hearts by Leila Siddiqui

glass hearts

This 278 page magical realism YA book featuring a Muslim family grabs your attention and heart in the prologue, unfortunately it quickly releases it, and until you get over a third of the way in to the story, it is a struggle to read.  Once you accept that half of the book, the storyline set in the present, is going to be terrible, you enjoy the historical narrative and appreciate that the short book with a quick pace spends more time in the subcontinent during partition, than it does with the painfully underdeveloped characters trying to make sense of past secrets and their present day manifestations.  The book doesn’t have any major flags in terms of religious representation, it is just ritual acts of praying and reading Quran, nothing detailed or explored, and relationship-wise there is nothing high school readers can’t handle (spoilers and more details can be read in the FLAGS section).  Despite being a first time author, she works as an editor, so one would really expect the climax to hit harder with clearer writing, the characters to be developed, the details written to serve a purpose, and the protagonist teen’s voice not to read overwhelmingly at the beginning as a five year old.  The overall story concept and historical fiction component are exciting, the development of the characters just really failed an otherwise engaging read. 

SYNOPSIS:

Maera’s brother Asad goes missing in 2011 from their grandfather’s home in Pakistan while they are visiting.  They search and cannot locate him or a body, the loss devastates Maera’s family.  Ten years later, her grandfather passes away, and the next morning a greenhouse appears in their backyard in America.  Not just any greenhouse, her grandfather’s greenhouse from Pakistan.  Maera thinks she is going crazy, her mother doesn’t acknowledge the structure, she doesn’t acknowledge much, not about the reality in front of them, not the night Asad disappeared, or the needs of her daughter. Maera’s aunt (mom’s twin) and cousin come from Pakistan to mourn the loss of the grandfather together, he passed in Pakistan, not sure why Maera and her mom didn’t go there, but I digress.  Cousins Jamal, aka Jimmy, and Maera are the only two that seems determined to figure it all out.  Their grandfather’s journal turns up and with Maera’s friend Sara and Rob, the neighbor and former best friend of Asad, the four of them set out to understand what is going on in the greenhouse.

The greenhouse seems to be alive, and entering it dependent on the whims of something within, a churail,  a shape shifting creature of myth that is more than a witch, a succubus that targets men.  A woman who died violently and was wronged by men, whose feet are turned backward, and who is neither alive or dead.  As the four work through the journal, venture in to the greenhouse, and confront those within, secrets will be unearthed, exposed, and finally dealt with.

The historical interwoven story is that of the grandfather during colonial British rule and partition.  As a young boy Haroon is searching for his father fighting in Burma and the adventures he has along the way. Shah Jehan’s father takes Haroon in at one point, and the girl with an emperor’s name sneaks him out to watch the village deal with the churail who are killing the men in their village.  The incident scars Haroon, but his affection for Shah Jehan and the role she will continue to have in his life is established. The understanding that the subcontinent is being carved up and starved by the colonizers in the name of freedom is made clear in the characters that Haroon encounters and the quickly maturing boy grows in to a young man as he starts to understand the world around him and the larger powers at play.  When the migration and violence between Hindus getting to India and Muslims going to Pakistan occurs, the pieces in the past and present come together to reveal the terrors that the greenhouse houses. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

I loved the commentary both in the text, and explicitly detailed in the afterward about how culturally the past is handled.  How little generations discuss what they have endured and been through.  I have been asked by my father-in-law a few times to try and coax my mother-in-law to detail her journey with their oldest son from India to Pakistan.  She has apparently never clearly told what happened, what she saw, and what they experienced.  She waves it off now, but her own children didn’t even know there was more to the story, and as my inlaws approach their 90s I have little hope of them recalling or sharing their stories.  Recently my son needed to hear some first person accounts of war, so he contacted my American grandfather to learn about his time in the Korean War, much of it I knew, Americans, generally speaking, talk about this type of experience in passing.  My son, also wanted to compare his story to someone who lived as a civilian through a war, and asked my mother-in-law, his Dadi, about her experience living through the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, not that long ago, and we all sat spellbound as she recalled the sirens and how they kept the children fed and calm and whatnot.  They were stories no one had thought to ask it seemed.  She has seven children and almost thirty grandchildren.  This book struck such a chord with me, I need to actively seek out these stories before it is too late.   Chances are no one else in the family will. Not speaking the language fluently has cost me my chance to learn my own father’s family’s stories and I need to find a way to gather my husband’s family’s stories before it is too late. I love that in the book, The Past is capitalized as if it is a named living person shaping the lives of so many.  It is, and these stories are wonderful reminders and motivators to ask the elders to share their memories.

The present day story thread, however, is chalked full of holes, one dimensional characters, and pointless tangents.  Sara and Maera read like they are early elementary aged.  They are so terribly voiced in the beginning, I have no idea, how an editor author and mainstream publisher did not require correction.  The dialogue, the action, the role of the parents, it is terrible.  Speaking of terrible, the mother and aunt are absolutely flat and useless.  They mope, sleep and sit in the corner.  I don’t understand why you wouldn’t develop them to link the past story to the present one.  I’m not being picky here, it is that bad.  I also wanted to know why the dad left.  Seems like it would flesh out the mom a bit, justify her approach to life.  Sara and Rob are obviously brought in to serve as vessels for the action, and for Maera and possibly Jimmy to play off of.  But their backstories are so pathetic.  How do you not know or see your neighbor for ten years.  Ok, I get that he was Asad’s best friend and your family in their grief and denial pushed him away, but he never checked the mail or took out the trash, or was seen? And Sara offers absolutely nothing to the story other than to be part of the forced crush/romance line pairing off her and Jimmy and Rob and Maera.  Alhumdulillah, it stays tame with the angsty longing and hand holding.  

Random details that serve no purpose reach a pinnacle with the paragraph long time spent on Maera wearing Rob’s tank top.   I have no idea why we should care that she is wearing a tank top.  Sure as a Muslim reviewer it furthered the notion to me, that she is probably more culturally religious, and yes I know Muslim’s dress to different degrees of modesty, but I really couldn’t find any other reason for the emphasis on the black tank top. Overall, all the friendships in the story seem so off: Rob and Asad, and Sara and Maera.  They should be easy plot points, but they don’t connect, or read believable.  

Plot wise: if you had a building magically appear in your back yard along with a journal, would you not read that journal as fast as possible? Sure you would lose sleep and maybe skip a meal or two, but hello, a building just appeared in your back yard that is moving and growing, your grandfather died and your brother’s body was never found: stop what you are doing and read the journal.  It mentions that when Asad went missing there were a lot of other kids, cousins at the house, so where are they now? Why was there no mention of them, and only Jimmy seems to have a vested interest in the grandfather passing, and the growing need to remember Asad.  I did not understand the sacrifice and hair connection and how that was what Maera understand the Churail to be asking for.  I did not understand the end of chapter entitled “The Separation,” it says they entered together, so…. ya?Off and on in the greenhouse there are multiple churail, this seems inconsistent with what we learn from the one churail about leaving.  The whole climax needs a Cliff’s Notes synopsis.  I honestly have no idea what happened.  The churail was scared of the beast, but they all went off together, affectionately? I’m trying not spoil anything here.  Why was the churail so different at the beginning compared to the end, why did she get a growth arc, when the other characters didn’t? Shouldn’t there have been some cathartic reprieve verbalized between the mom and SPOILER (sorry I tried) Asad? I felt deprived.  

There were a few grammar errors, but because I read an ARC, I’m hoping they have been corrected

FLAGS:

There is a little bit of language (F word at least once).  Children are conceived, it isn’t explicit, but the fact that it happened is critical to the story.  There are crushes, angsty/longing, hand holding, hugging.  There is sexual assault implied as a major plot point, but not detailed.  There is death, and killing, often gruesome, some real, (hits harder), some far fetched.  The book is YA and  ok for high school readers and up in my opinion.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would be interested in seeing if some of the muddled passages are cleaned up in the published physical copy, the book’s characters are weak, but the historical fiction component is a story that needs to be shared more and more as we, collectively, seek to understand the past, the impact of colonization, and the emergence of telling our OWN voice stories.  For all the flaws, I haven’t completely written off the book, I’m hopeful that even if this one doesn’t make the cut for a book club, that inshaAllah the author will keep writing and filling in the blanks.

Marvel Avengers Assembly: Orientation by Preeti Chhibber illustrated by James Lancett

Standard
Marvel Avengers Assembly: Orientation by Preeti Chhibber illustrated by James Lancett

This is the first book in a new middle grade Marvel series told from Kamala Khan’s perspective. Part graphic novel, part screen shots, emails, diaries, fan fiction and doodles, the book features a diverse group of young marvel characters and even some quotes from the Quran. At 175 pages the book has action, humor and themes of team work, self improvement, friendship, second chances, and balancing life that will appeal to boys and girls that are fans of comics, but might be a little scattered for those that only know the main superheroes from pop culture.

SYNOPSIS:

Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel is doing a good job keeping villains out of her New Jersey neighborhood, but she is also causing damage to property in the process. When she gets caught on camera destroying a building, a letter from Captain Marvel follows with an invitation to join the Avengers Institute. Already balancing school, her writing of fan fiction and her super hero obligations, Kamala worries if she can handle one more thing and if she is up for making new friends. But, it is Carol Danvers asking, so she reflects on a quote from the Quran her dad always says and talks to Sheikh Abdullah, and ultimately decides to give it a try.

At the Institute she makes friends with Miles Morales (Spiderman) and Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl). The three of them are assigned to be a team for the Academic Decathlon at the end of the semester and to succeed they have to learn about trusting each other, team work, making smart decisions and communicating. Their biggest and most sinister rivals are Max Frankenstein, Kid Immortus, Death Locket and Kid Apocalypse. with the group leader, Kid Immortus being focused on Ms. Marvel and convinced that if he can clone her atoms he too can engorge. Kid Apocalypse however, has a class with Kamala and the two of them are kind of becoming friends. Throw in teachers like Beast from X-Men, Lockjaw teaching interdimensional travel and diplomacy, and an independent study class with Ant-man and there is a lot of fan girling going on.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that they are super heroes, but the book is about everyday real world struggles. The book doesn’t have a plot or climax so to speak, but more lays the foundation for the rest of the series and gives young readers a lot to relate to with new school awkwardness. There are strong themes of being a good friend, a good loser, seeing the good in others and really understanding what it takes to make a team work. There are some great lines, “politicians don’t have anything on aunties,” that speak to Kamala’s desi environment and I absolutely love that Kamala Khan mentions an imam, quotes the Quran twice, has a friend that wears hijab, and a mom that does too.

FLAGS:

The book is pretty clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think it would work as a book club selection, but I think readers 3rd or 4th grade and up that love super heroes will enjoy the fun dynamic read.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Standard
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

boy

I was not expecting to be so absorbed by this 362 page AR 5.4 book.  I knew it was about a Syrian refugee in Brussels and his friendship with an American kid living in Europe for a year, so I knew that Islamaphobia and immigration would all be factors.  I also knew that as a middle grade book it would be optimistic, and a bit of a stretch at times,  but when I had to pause in the first chapter to wipe the tears off my cheek, I knew that while it could be billed as, another refugee story, it really was going to be a poignant story about humanity and friendship and family and making a difference, so I settled in and was swept off to Belgium and the adventure of two determined kids.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with 14-year-old Ahmed on a boat with his father hoping to reach Greece from Turkey, when the boat stalls, his father and two other men, the only other people on the dinghy that know how to swim, jump into the sea to drag the boat.  When a storm swell hits them, his father is lost and Ahmed, who left Syria when an explosion killed his mom and sisters, is all alone.

Max is 13 and his parents and sister have just arrived in Belgium for a year.  Not a great student, Max learns that he will be going to a local school where French is spoken, and will be repeating 6th grade.  Less than thrilled with the news, he is additionally hurt that his parents didn’t tell him first.

The two stories start off separate with Max trying to find his footing in school and scouts where he understands very little, and has no desire to learn, and is also getting picked on by a kid named Oscar.  He learns about the history of his street and house during World War II from his after school tutor and a police officer that used to live in the house they are renting and makes regular checks on how it is being maintained.  

 Ahmed has been staying with Ibrahim and his family, another man that tried to drag the boat in the sea, but with news that they are probably going to be forced to return to Iraq, suggests that Ahmed register in as an unaccompanied minor so that he could find a place to stay.  Ahmed knows that if he registers in Beligium he will never make it to England, he hires a smuggler for 300 Euros to get him there.  When the smuggler steals his money and his phone, Ahmed worries his organs could be next, and jumps out of the moving car,  

Ahmed runs through a neighborhood looking for shelter and safety and some warmth from the frigid air.  Ahmed finds the basement of a house unlocked, he then finds a wine cellar room that is empty and decides to stay for the night as he figures out his next step. One day turns in to two and before he knows it, he has a routine of finding food upstairs during the night, which he records so that he can repay the family one day, caring for the family’s discarded orchids, and working on his English.  Then one day Max goes downstairs and discovers Ahmed living there.

Deciding he isn’t a terrorist, Max decides not to turn Ahmed in nor tell his parents, and the two become friends.  The two enlist Farah, a nice Muslim girl at school to help, and they get Oscar too, to forge papers to get Ahmed in to school.  While the biggest problem should be keeping a kid hidden in the basement, and keeping him fed and entertained, the situation is compounded as terrorist attacks by Muslim extremist plague the city and Europe, making everyone on high alert.  The police keep checking in and anti immigrant sentiment rises.  When Ahmed gets accused of being a bomb maker his secret is out, but can his knowledge of how a jewish boy was hidden in the neighborhood during the war keep him free? Nope, I’m not going to spoil it, you have to read it, trust me, you’ll thank me for it!

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love, love, love, the history parallel, and the truth in the story of Albert Jonnart and Ralph Mayer that is woven into this modern fictional story.  I love that Max so plainly says that the stories are the same and that laws that aren’t right shouldn’t be followed, yes! The book reads a lot like Refugee by Alan Gratz crossed with The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf with the kids being so heroic and determined and awesome, throw in a dash of The Diary of Anne Frank, switching out a boy for a girl, a Muslim for a Jew, the basement for the attic, and a diary for a fictional story, and you have this book.

I love that the adventure and excitement shows how resourceful kids can be even when they don’t share common language.  Max speaks English and is learning French, he is helping Ahmed learn better English and some French, when they talk to Farah who speaks Moroccan Arabic /Berber, they often have to go through Oscar who speaks French and English.  Yay, for American television and kids who’s hearts are bigger than the obstacles they are taking on.  Additionally, when the kids hit a dead end, they reach out to Jews in America for help, knowing that the two religions have more in common than politicians and the media would like to think.  Seriously, kids should rule the world.

Ahmed is a religious boy that prays, refuses meat even when hungry to ensure it is halal, and makes sure that Max knows in Islam kindness and charity are the norm and commands, not the violence that people are doing in the name of his religion.  A lot of the moms of the kids at school where hijab, and the author gets the Islam right and believable.  It doesn’t get preachy, but a fair amount of information about Islam is shared.

FLAGS:

A lot of lying. Some violence, death, hate speech. There is mention of smoking and the adults I think drink wine at one point.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m hoping to do this as a middle school book club selection, because it really is so good.

Author’s website: https://katherinemarsh.com/books/nowhere-boy/

Teaching: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=60364

 

My Voice is my Super Power by Shariea Shoatz illustrated by Kilson Spany

Standard
My Voice is my Super Power by Shariea Shoatz illustrated by Kilson Spany

IMG_0210

I want to believe most parents and/or caregivers discuss body boundaries and what’s appropriate and what’s not, with their children regularly.  But if you don’t, or haven’t, or just glossed over it while at the doctors office, this book is a great discussion starter and road map.  The author comes from a place of educational and personal experience and the 33 page book tells a story that children can read independently with a discussion guide for parents to follow at the end.  Even if you don’t feel comfortable letting your children read the story independently or with you, there is a page depicting male and female private parts, I still think the book is a way for adults to face their own squeamishness of discussing it, and get ideas of how to present to their children.  Being nervous or uncomfortable is not an excuse to not discuss sexual abuse against children with our children.  For their voice to be their super power, we must first be willing to use ours to open the subject with them, educate them, and empower them.  Abuse happens in every culture, religion, socio economic bracket, period, to think differently is naive and dangerous.

IMG_0120

Nine-year-old Buddy is heading to his cousins’ house for a sleepover, but before heading out, he addresses the readers to make sure they know the body safety rules and to make sure his super power, his voice, is ready.  His voice is what he can use if he feels unsafe, or to help his friends if they feel unsafe.  He can say “Stop” or “No” if someone breaks one of the Body Safety Rules.

IMG_0121

His mom, a muhajaba, has being teaching him since he was three to use his voice to let people know his body belongs to him.  He knows he can say no when he doesn’t want to hug or kiss or touch someone, even if they are a family member.

IMG_0122

The book then talks about body parts that everyone can see and labels them with a diagram before explaining private parts and labeling them as well.  The book also discussing using the proper names, not nicknames or “cute” names, such as hotdog and cookie, to describe anatomy and body parts.

IMG_0123

If someone breaches or doesn’t listen to the “No” or “Stop” the book encourages everyone have a safety circle of adults you trust and like and that you feel safe and comfortable talking to.  It also mentions that if one person doesn’t listen or believe you to go to another person in the circle until someone does.

IMG_0124

Another rule is No Secrets, and the book explains the difference between a secret and a surprise, which does eventually get told.

IMG_0125

When Buddy gets to his cousins house, the kids play and have fun, when a friend of the aunt’s stops by and gives only Keisha a treat before leaving.  When Buddy asks about the friend, his cousin talks about how they play pretend and tickle and how they have a secret touch game.  Buddy explains the rules to his cousin and then goes with her to help her talk to her mom about the breaking of Body Safety Rules.

IMG_0126

The story ends with the mom calling “people” to take the friend away and the kids feeling empowered that they kept their bodies safe.

IMG_0127

The Activity Guide for Adults gives information for each of the pages in the story to help the adult understand why that part of the story is included (i.e. grooming, disclosure, etc.) and activities to ensure understanding and mastery.

IMG_0128

The book is not religion specific, and would be a great benefit to all children, everywhere with parental involvement and dialogue.

May Allah swt keep all our children safe, ameen.