Tag Archives: subcontinent

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin


I get teased a lot by my Lit Sisters for enjoying Hana Khan Carries On so much, so I’m writing this review to convince them why I think this is Uzma Jalaluddin’s best book yet, and why they should preorder here and dive in ASAP! First note that is an adult read, it is not targeted to teens, the protagonist for the majority of the book is nearly 30 years old. It is a romance, it is not a hundred percent halal, but it is definitely halal-ish, and if you feel like you reach a point where it absolutely isn’t, please keep reading (you might be surprised).  The book for being what I thought would be an empty calorie rom-com guilty pleasure snack, tells the story of Nada in spiraling layers that keep the reader hooked.  Just when you think it is predictable and tropey, the next layer peels back a twist and depth that kept me ignoring my kids and glued to the pages for two days straight.  I furiously scribbled notes writing down “haram” deal breakers and most by the end where crossed off, so no this is not Islamic fiction, but there is no internalized Islamophobia, there is no liberal agenda, the author knows the lines and is abiding by them and occasionally breaking them in a fictional entertainment world for Muslim and non Muslim readers alike.  I hate to compare, but in many ways it reads like an adult S.K. Ali book.  There is social commentary on Islamic communities from a place of love and practice from the inside, there are relatable characters, there is humor, there is love, laughter, and warmth. On occasion there is skirting of the halal/haram line a bit here and there, and sure males and females are a little too friendly at times, but it isn’t the oppressive parents and identity crisis, it is joy. Muslim reality and stress, with true mirroring joy as well.

So why am I reviewing this book here? Simple so you can enjoy it.  So often I feel like reviewers particularly, but casual readers as well, become nervous while reading, that the book is going to take a turn and become haram or preachy that we can’t just get lost in the story.  So my gift to you, is that if you enjoy rom-coms and don’t usually go for “Muslamic” ones because of apprehension, you can dive in and enjoy this.  You can laugh when they ask for a doctor at an Islamic convention, you can roll your eyes when hijabi’s bring extra scarves to throw on the stage of the band (there is a guitar player, but mostly daf and vocals), you can be upset at the slight physical touching (keep reading), and you can nod along with the commentary on divorce, misogyny, wheelchair access, and mental health, but you can also just cheer for the protagonist to find her way to happiness and love too.

SYNOPSIS: (Will be brief because other wise there will be too many spoilers, and because of how the book is told, you don’t want spoilers, trust me, you want to enjoy)

The book opens with Nada trying to hide from both her mom who wants discuss her future and her best friend Haleema who is determined to have a girls weekend with her bestie at the Deen & Duniya Islamic conference in Toronto.  Cornered she finds herself at the conference organized by Haleema’s soon to be inlaws and face to face with a variety of characters from her past including past victims of her bullying, past love interest, past business partners, past camp roommates, college friends, startup mentors, and others- it is a very popular and large conference

Yep, that is all you are getting.


Again, to avoid spoilers I’m going to simply point out a few plot concerns I had with the book, because it is who I am, and I need to get them off my chest.

In some of the flashback scenes Nada’s voice reads the same as it does in the present.  Her articulation of Baz’s potential as a daf player at 11 years old is very mature and insightful and not realistic at all that she can opine on his skill and the role his hand size have on his mastery at that moment of the instrument.  She would probably just think, yeah he is good, or wow, he isn’t bad.

I found it odd that Marya’s husband had opinions on Nada’s makeup, it seemed a bit forward.  Also they were in line, then they left, the pacing of the scene was a little off, I read an arc, but I’m hoping it is cleaned up a bit, because it is an important scene.

Haleema is Nada’s college friend, but toward the end in college flashbacks she really disappears, and it was noticeable, because the reader is constantly told Haleema and Nada were good college friends, but never shown.  So in those scenes to not have her there, without note, is suspect.  Nada really isn’t a good friend to here either, at any stage of life save the conclusion, I’m not sure why Haleema does so much for her honestly.

There is a wedding scene without a wali, and there should be a comment as to why the wedding is performed without the religiously mandated staple or how they are getting around it.  It reads off for a book that gets so many details correct.  I am hoping that the final has it corrected! PLEASE!!!!!!

Also for a different wedding Sufyan is noted to have got an invite to help serve chai, but he is the groom’s cousin’s son, introduced earlier as a nephew, before the cultural chain of relation is given, so why wouldn’t he be at the wedding?


Music, female and male close friendships, sneaking around, bullying, talk of sex, sex, kissing, talk of pregnancy, lying, stealing, theft, there might be a curse word or two, sorry, not sure.  For an adult book it is clean, these days for a YA book it would be considered remarkably clean.


I wouldn’t suggest it for a school library or high school book club, but I wouldn’t put up much of a fight if it was on the shelf or schedule.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

night diary

I was curious to see how partition would be presented in this book by an Indian Hindu author featuring characters who are half Hindu and half Muslim relocating to Hindu India.  Told in journal entries written by 12 year old Nisha to her deceased Muslim mother, the 264 page AR 4.5 book is wonderfully done, extremely compelling, and about so much more than the politics that birthed India and Pakistan.


Nisha and her twin brother Amil are opposites, yet they complete each other and care for each other in such a tangible and heart swelling way, that you can’t cheer for one while not rooting for the other one to find success and their place in the world as well.  As the twins turn 12 and Nisha is gifted with a journal from the families beloved cook Kazi, India and Pakistan too are about to come to fruition and Nisha’s journal entries detail her understanding of the larger events around her as well as her own struggles to come in to her own.

For Nisha words do not come easily.  She excels at school and loves to cook, but talking to people, or making friends eludes her and her longing for her deceased mother, make her a quiet reflective child.   She observes and  takes in so much around her, internalizes it, ruminates on it, and pieces it back together in a gifted way when she writes, that reading her entries, and the voice the author creates for her, is really amazing and fluid.  You feel like you really know Nisha and what makes her tick, what she fears, and how she thinks, you also get emotional attached to her and her world and find yourself surprised at how invested you are in not only her family’s successful migration across the new border, but also in her finding her voice and the confidence to use it.

Amil’s voice comes through Nisha, but her love for him and the way his strengths are her weaknesses and vice versa allows insight into the other family dynamics and attitudes to the two children.  Amil is an amazing artist, that suffers from dyslexia and does poorly in school.  He is weak and wiry, but fast, and he can talk and charm and ask all the questions that Nisha wants asked but can’t find the words for.  He and their physician father are rarely on good terms, as he isn’t the ideal strong boy with a medical degree in his future.

When it is decided that the family must leave their city where Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs live together and journey into Hindu India, the twins, their father, and their father’s mother, Dadi, must rely on each other to survive the riots and violence of the mass migration.  Nisha must also survive the understanding that with a Hindu father and Muslim mother there is so much about her own place in the world she doesn’t understand, and thus the journey is both an internal and external one, that will change Nisha forever.


I love that the protagonists voice is so steady and believable.  I truly fell in love with Nisha and felt her pain, happiness, anguish and overall got emotional for her, it was a rollercoaster.  The author does an amazing job of painting the politics of Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi and Mountbatten in broad strokes, but believable ones to the understanding of a 12 year old.  She sees that one India held people of all faiths and that this breaking up of everything is leading to violence, upheaval, and horrors previously unimaginable.  She doesn’t understand why people had issues with her mother being of one faith and her father another, she loves her Muslim cook and loves listening to him pray five times a day as her paternal grandmother sings Hindu prayers in the other room.  She is both Hindu and Muslim and doesn’t see the contradiction within herself, suspending the reader’s own opinions on partition (if they have them), because how she sees it, does make sense for the story’s narrative.  The author takes Gandhi’s side of non violence and staying together, but balances very well and very intentionally that atrocities and humanity was seen from people of various faiths and political persuasions.  The role of British colonization and freedom from it, is slightly glossed over to the point of disservice, but again, being the target age of the reader and the age of the characters, I’m willing to over look it.  Families with Indian and Pakistani heritage will want to take the lacking information and help their children to fill in the blanks.

I love that the backdrop is the action of the story, but the relationship between the characters is truly the heart.  A lot of growth and compassion is conveyed very succinctly and powerfully.  Nisha wants so desperately to speak, but can’t, and her internal struggle and the pain she feels when she can’t speak up to help and participate in the world around her is gut wrenching.  As she confides in her diary, you realize that kids understand so much more than we adults often give them credit for.  The lesson is not lost on me.  I initially thought a book steeped in subcontinent history, with religious conflict and foreign words, wouldn’t appeal to a western elementary aged readers, after reading it, however, I now think this heartwarming story should be thrust upon them all.


There is violence and death.  Not sensationalized, but detailed enough to set the tone of how serious the journeys were between the two countries when British rule stopped  There is some bullying and mention of the father smoking socially with friends.


There is an Author’s Note, and a glossary at the back, and the inside covers have maps showing the journey the characters take.  I would absolutely do this as a Book Club selection for upper elementary, and will consider it even for middle school.  A lot of tools for teaching the book are available online, here are just a few:

Educator’s Guide: https://www.penguin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/The-Night-Diary_Educator-GuideWEB.pdf

Children’s Discussion Questions: https://www.readbrightly.com/brightlys-book-club-for-kids-the-night-diary/

Classroom Bookshelf: http://www.theclassroombookshelf.com/2018/06/the-night-diary/