Amina's Voice

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Amina's Voice Book Poster Image
Beautiful tale of Pakistani American middle-schooler.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Vocabulary from Islamic culture: "hijab," "imam," "insha'Allah," and so on. Pakistani food and dress: naan, samosas, chai, shalwar kameez. Korean food. Swearing-in ceremony for American citizenship.

Positive Messages

Kids from different backgrounds can be friends. The U.S. can welcome people from other cultures and benefits from diversity. When you do something wrong, you can rectify it with honesty and apologies. When you're afraid of something, you can overcome your fear. People can reject hate and support those who are victims of hate crimes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Amina is thoughtful and respectful of her family and culture. She feels jealousy in a friendship but is honest, admitting her mistakes and apologizing. She learns to appreciate the good qualities of others -- a former mean girl, a geeky boy, her strict uncle -- despite her initial misgivings. She weathers cultural slights with grace and learns to stand up to hate.

Violence & Scariness

The community building and mosque of the Islamic Center where Amina's family prays and studies is destroyed by arson and vandalism in a hate crime. Graffiti left on the walls says "Go Home, Terrorists, Towelheads" and "bad words so terrible that I squeeze my eyes shut."

Language

Sole instance of swearing: Amina's friend says, "What the hell were you thinking?"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Amina's Voice by Hena Khan is a gentle and sensitively written novel about a girl from a Pakistani American family. Muslim readers will see themselves and their families reflected, while readers from all backgrounds will easily relate to Amina, whose experiences and emotions ring true and who in many ways is a typical American middle school kid. The book's an excellent introduction to Pakistani American and Muslim culture, weaving in specifics while drawing parallels to show that this family, their culture, and their faith have many commonalities with others. A disturbing hate crime targets the Islamic Center and mosque, but the surrounding community rises to help and support their Muslim neighbors. The takeaway message is that "Muslims have far more friends than enemies in this country."

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What's the story?

In AMINA'S VOICE, Amina, who's Pakistani American, and her best friend, Soojin, from a Korean family, are starting sixth grade in a Milwaukee suburb. The two suffer the occasional taunt from their classmates ("Speak English. You're in America") but are in the full swing of American middle school life. They prepare for the upcoming choral concert and navigate friendship troubles and jealousy when another girl, formerly with the mean crowd, wants to befriend them. Amina also has a busy life with her Muslim community at their vibrant Islamic Center and wonders how to balance that culture when her uncle, who's from Pakistan and stricter, comes to stay with them for a month. Will her parents let her brother join the basketball team? And does Islam really frown on her love of music and singing? When the center becomes the target of vandalism and arson, the larger community rises to support their Muslim neighbors.

Is it any good?

This beautifully written, pitch-perfect novel expertly balances the narrator's typical American middle school life in Milwaukee with the specifics of her Muslim, Pakistani American culture. The parents in Amina's Voice are naturalized citizens, and the family is American in many ways. Amina watches The Voice, her brother plays basketball and video games, and her mom cross-country skis during snowstorms. Amina's narrative is colloquial, sprinkled with current kid-isms such as "random" and "super chatty," so she seems eminently relatable, and author Hena Khan writes with warmth and emotional honesty.

Khan weaves in details about Amina's culture and faith in just the right measure, familiarizing readers with the names of the clothes she wears (shalwar kameez), the food she eats (samosas), the names of her family and friends (Mustafa, Rabiya), and details about the family's life at the vibrant Islamic Center. They study "surahs" (chapters) from the Quran but also plan a fundraiser with a bounce house and a dunk tank (for dunk-the-imam). Khan focuses instead on how the hate crime affects the Islamic community and the response of their neighbors, which is overwhelmingly supportive. Kids looking to expand their understanding of Muslims and the experience of immigrant families could not do better than this sensitively written book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the vandalism of the Islamic Center in Amina's Voice. Has anything like that happened in your community? How does the community in the book respond? How do you think you and your community would respond?

  • How are Amina's school and family and friendship experiences similar to yours? How are they distinct from yours?

  • What hurtful things do the other middle school kids say to Amina and Soojin? Which do they say to be mean and which do they say out of ignorance?

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