Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani-American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.
This is a middle grade book, and it feels exactly like I think a middle grade book should. There’s the trying to define who you are and the slow tentative of “am I becoming a teenager, or not?”.
Amina has a beautiful voice and loves singing but her anxiety and shyness mean that she doesn’t participate and sing to others. Even with the encouraging of her teacher.
There’s a lot of pondering about her identity and her family, what are the expectations and who is she. But there is the contrast of her best friend too and other friends joining in to the team and what being the outcasts or the odd ones in school can mean.
There are so many things explore through the book that as I write the review I think “Oh, this one too”. For example, it touches on not letting preconceptions on who is your friend or your enemy stop you from finding good friends.
It also touches on Amina’s identity as a Muslim-Pakistani and the contrast between living in America and the expectations of how they ought to behave form family in Pakistan (and a visit from her Uncle, who shakes her world a little).
There is also the fact that there is a community in the mosque and how that works. I felt for Amina at times because I used to have to go to church and that same feeling she’d have at times about going to the mosque I have had regarding church.
In general, this is a wonderful little book that highlights being confident and using your gifts/talents and abilities, how community is what matters and in bad times it is what helps move forward in so many ways. It is also about friendship, and identity, when you are not one or the other (not American, not Pakistani? Both?). Very intriguing and a thought provoking book.