Amina’s Voice

  • Amina’s Voice
  • written by Hena Khan
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Amina has always been a shy kid. She does her own thing, is content to stay out of the spotlight, and stays out of trouble.

But now she’s in middle school. And of course, all bets are off. Especially when it seems like absolutely everything around her is undergoing massive change – change she can’t control.

On top of typical middle school struggles, Amina is facing several unexpected challenges that rock her world.

“There’s that word again. Puppies are cute. Babies are cute. But sixth-grade boys? Yuck.

Her best friend, Soojin Park, is about to become an American citizen with her parents. She’s also changing in ways Amina doesn’t recognize – making new friends and showing an interest in boys – and is talking about changing her name to Susan.

Her uncle is visiting from Pakistan and staying for several months. He also happens to be much more “traditional” and strictly religious than her own family. And he’s causing waves with his criticisms of how Amina and her brother are brought up to be “too American.”

And then the unthinkable happens to her mosque and Islamic Center.

Amina’s Voice is the latest title in Simon & Schuster’s Salaam Reads imprint, which “aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”

Author Hena Khan tells a straightforward story here that should appeal to all middle schoolers, regardless of background. The issues Amina faces in school – new friends, group work with “weird” classmates, the pressure of keeping others’ secrets, balancing extracurricular activities – are universal and presented in a way any kid can relate to.

Amina’s story, though, is filled with colorful details relevant to her Pakistani heritage and Muslim faith. And it’s this description that helps the reader develop a rich, complex portrait of Amina and better understand her character and motivations.

The conflicts Amina feels between the responsibilities she has toward her parents, extended family, imam, and friends all come together to contextualize who she is. The inner turmoil she feels as a 12-year-old girl trying to find her place in middle school while balancing her heritage and faith creates a compelling character that we don’t see enough of in books for young readers.

“Just like Stella on The Voice, I could transform from a skinny, shy girl in a plaid shirt and jeans into a glamorous star in a sequined gown. Well, maybe I’d skip the sequined-gown part, but I could at least be confident, sure-of-herself Amina – ready to share my talent with the school, and, eventually, with the rest of the world.”

(Disclosure: Simon & Schuster provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)

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