Tag Archives: Muslim

Review for Ticket to India by N.H. Senzai


My Summary: Maya flies from the U.S. to Pakistan to attend the funeral for her grandfather. There, she finds out that her family has roots in India through her grandmother, who moved to Pakistan after Partition. In order to complete her grandfather’s final rites, her grandmother wishes to seek out an old family heirloom that was left behind in India. Maya sets off for India with her grandmother and older sister to hunt for this family treasure in a race against time, but unexpected complications result in her tackling the search completely on her own.

My Review:

N.H. Senzai became one of my favorite middle grade writers last year after I read Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner. Having written two books that focused on her husband’s Afghan American heritage, she decided to write one based on her own as an Indian and Pakistani American.

Ticket to India is many things at once. It’s a whirlwind tour of India (both the beautiful and the ugly), brought to life through vivid descriptions. The story cleverly incorporates landmarks into the plot: Maya’s grandmother  uses them to remember the location of her old home and the location of the family treasure. The perspective through which we see these landmarks is different from that of a regular tourist, however, because even as these sights are new to Maya, they are also in a way familiar to her, echoing the landscape of Pakistan.

Other facts are included in the story through the use of epistolary format. Part of the story is excerpts from Maya’s journal for a school assignment. Since she is writing with her teacher as an audience, she lists various facts about Pakistan and India, among other things, thus supplying some of the background for the story. It takes the place of an unnecessary info-dump in the middle of action or dialogue.

Although some neutral facts are stated, the book doesn’t shy away from critiques of British imperialism in the past and rampant political corruption and religious conflict in the present. These views are communicated through Maya’s interactions with various adults as well as her observations of various situations.

Aside from being informative, the book is also a suspenseful adventure. Maya faces many obstacles and setbacks as she makes her way across India. She meets both people who show her kindness and help her and people who have malicious intentions. She also meets people with good intentions who still make her journey difficult because they have their own ideas of where she should go. I was on the edge of my seat wondering whether she’d make it out of trouble spots in one piece and ultimately succeed in her quest.

The book is also about sibling relationships. Maya’s older sister tends to outshine and overshadow her. She’s more assertive and kind of a know-it-all. However, their unintended separation gives Maya a chance to come into herself and develop a sense of independence.

Like Shooting Kabul, Ticket to India tackles complex political issues, this time concerning the Partition of the Indian subcontinent and its continuing aftereffects. Aside from Maya and Zahra’s sisterhood, there is also the “sibling relationship” between India and Pakistan. They share many things, including a common history up until Partition. However, there is also conflict as only siblings can wage against one another, intimate and painful.

The author takes a hopeful and optimistic approach to the question of the two countries’ futures. The similarities between India and Pakistan are emphasized over the differences. Moreover, by making Maya the viewpoint character, she breaks down the idea of India and Pakistan as being in binary opposition to one another. Like the author herself, Maya is both Pakistani and Indian, not just one or the other, and the conflict is not a zero-sum game.

Recommendation: Highly recommended. This book is both entertaining and thought-provoking, a great middle grade cross-country adventure!

Review for The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia


My Summary: Aliya has a lot of problems typical for a fifth grader: she wants to fit in, she worries about being popular enough for student council, and she has a crush on a cute boy who will probably never notice her, and she’s loaded with homework assignments that she’s not too excited about completing. Unfortunately, on top of that, she faces Islamophobia from people around her, even though she’s not even very strict about observing certain Islamic traditions. Then, a new girl, Marwa, arrives. She’s Moroccan and wears the hijab, which makes her a prime target for bullying. Aliya can choose to avoid association with her, or maybe Marwa has something to teach her about being true to oneself.


Even within diversity, there is diversity. Although the majority of Indians are Hindu, there are many who are Muslims. I think this is the first book about an Indian Muslim American that I’ve read, and I’m glad I found it because it covers a lot of issues in an way that’s accessible to kids.

Aliya’s family is Indian and Muslim. They speak Urdu at home, and she knows a bit of Arabic for the common prayers and greetings. However, the women in her family don’t wear the hijab, eating halal food isn’t a huge priority for the family, and Aliya hasn’t observed the fast for Ramadan with much success. Throughout the course of the book, she starts to see her faith in a new light and make commitments to observing certain practices.

Aliya is a flawed but still sympathetic protagonist. She wants to do the right thing but feels inhibited by fear and social pressure and doesn’t always know how to respond to difficult situations. Thankfully, she is not alone in her struggles; she has Muslim friends from Sunday School at the local Islamic Center to commiserate over hate incidents and regular tween issues, and her parents, grandmother, and great-grandmother are there to support her as well, offering their wisdom and advice to guide her toward growth.

Unfortunately, due to a bunch of teasing and bullying from kids as school, directed toward Marwa or toward Aliya, she internalizes some of the negative and xenophobic perceptions about people like herself.

It takes two different school projects and then some for Aliya to come to terms with her faith. One is for her Sunday School and takes the form of a series of letters she writes to Allah with the intent of bettering herself. The other is a project for regular school where she works with her best friend Winnie on a display board to showcase their respective cultures and religions.

This book is a celebration of diversity in two ways. One is Aliya’s best friend Winnie, who is biracial Jewish Korean American. Like Aliya, she faces microaggressions from people, even from Aliya’s own grandmother (Aliya tries to correct her), so even though she’s not the main protagonist, her experiences are represented on the page.

The other way is in its portrayal of the differences in how various families and individuals interpret and practice Islam. Marwa wears the hijab with confidence, Aliya’s mother does not and believes it is not necessary to cover up to be modest. One or two of Aliya’s friends from Sunday School wear the hijab, with varying degrees of confidence because of the Islamophobic attacks that happen so frequently to girls who wear it. More importantly, they’re shown as having agency in doing so; it’s a personal choice that they make for themselves.

Aliya’s personal and religious/spiritual journey were a pleasure to follow along with. The book alternates between a typical first-person narration and an epistolary format for Aliya’s letters to Allah. Those letters bring the reader into the intimate relationship she has with Allah, and the change she undergoes is apparent from the progression from mere complaints about what is happening to conscientious self-reflection and constructive action. She may not know all the answers at the end, but she has greater confidence, self-discipline, and wisdom to navigate her future.

The major themes in this book were interesting to me because they approach adversity and Islamophobia/prejudice from a gentler angle than, say, Does My Head Look Big in This?, which has a very different tone, overall. However, the “quieter” methods of dealing with bigotry are not necessarily less powerful or effective.

My one criticism was an instance of ableist language. Aliya nicknames her finnicky and crotchety great-aunt Choti Dahdi “OCD,” which stands for “Old Choti Dahdi.” Her great-aunt isn’t a two-dimensional character defined purely by her neuroticism, but the nickname was an insensitive one.

Recommendation: It’s a great book for young readers that teaches empathy, resilience, and integrity.

Review for Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai


My Summary: In 2001, Fadi’s family flees the Taliban and emigrates to San Francisco from Afghanistan. However, his little sister Mariam is accidentally left behind. As Fadi attempts to adjust to his new life in the U.S., he struggles with not only prejudice from peers fueled by the 9/11 attacks but also his guilt for his role in Mariam getting lost. Hope for rescuing Mariam arrives in the form of a photography contest where the grand prize is a trip to India. Despite the obstacles he faces, Fadi develops a new hobby, makes friends, and strives to win the photography contest.


Shooting Kabul is a good book in many ways. From the characters, to the handling of complex political situations, to the themes–all of these things make this book memorable.

For most Americans, especially white Americans, the Taliban and Islam are far removed from their personal experiences. What little they know is filtered through biased media and outright misinformation peddled by hatemongers and those who stand to benefit from the conflicts and wars the U.S. wages abroad. The choice of an young Afghan American refugee as a main character serves to remove that emotional distance, rendering the political personal.

For Fadi, the Taliban is not just a news item, they are something that has direct ties to and influence on his family. The Taliban are the reason they have fled Afghanistan. His family’s history with the Taliban illustrates the way the group evolved from being the heroes of Afghanistan against foreign invasion to the oppressive rulers, defying the oversimplified narrative of Taliban=evil.

By setting the story in late 2001, the author is able to explore the repercussions of 9/11 on Muslim Americans. The victims of 9/11 aren’t just those who died in the attacks, but also the people who have faced backlash due to racism and Islamophobia. As we see from Fadi’s bullies, children are impressionable and will internalize the prejudices of their environment and perpetuate it. That’s why this book is so important: because it teaches empathy.

Although Fadi faces bullies, he also makes friends and allies at school. Most notable among these are Anh, a Vietnamese American classmate who convinces him to join the photography club, and Ms. Bethune, his Black art class teacher and the sponsor for the photography club. They help him out and encourage his creativity. (POC friendships are the best.)

In various ways, the book highlights the diversity of San Francisco. From Fadi’s classmates and teacher to the urban landscape of the city, readers get the impression of the mosaic of peoples and cultures that populate Fadi’s world.

One of the things I really loved about the book was the detailed descriptions of photography. The author deftly portrays the labor and the artistry in the process of producing a photograph, from the planning of the shot to the making of a photo print. It really gives you a deeper appreciation for the art. I learned a lot about photography from reading this book.

Although Fadi faces unexpected setbacks, he ultimately gets a happy ending. The ending left me with a sense of hope, and the reassurance that sometimes when one door closes, another opens.

Recommendation: This is great book about family, friendship and perseverance. Though it’s a middle grade novel, I think anyone can read it and enjoy it.

Review for Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Amal, an Australian-Palestinian girl living in Melbourne, is about to start her junior year, and she has decided to start wearing the hijab full-time. After making this decision, she must confront judgment and prejudice from classmates, neighbors, strangers, and more. On top of that, she’s developed a crush on a classmate. Soon, junior year becomes the year for herself to struggle with and explore her identity and figure out how to remain true to herself and her principles in the face of social pressures to conform.


This book was first published in 2005, but it’s still relevant and important, given the current political climate and rise in Islamophobic sentiment. Amal’s story stands against hatred and prejudice by centering the perspective of a Muslim hijabi, someone who is very vulnerable to vitriol and violence due to her hypervisibility.

The book is very explicit in its handling of stereotypes and Islamophobia. It directly calls out the biases and assumptions that even well-meaning people hold. Since the narrative is in first-person, readers get to experience Amal’s visceral responses to prejudice and harassment. We get to empathize with her frustration, fear, and fury.

Amal is a great character. She’s snarky and strong-willed, but she has her flaws. She doubts herself sometimes, makes poor decisions, judges people unfairly and has to confront her own biases, etc. She’s capable of being sensitive and insightful, but she’s still a teenager who has a lot to learn.

Aside from having a strong protagonist, this book features a diverse supporting cast that add to the richness of the story. One of Amal’s two closest friends at school is Japanese, having bonded with her over shared experiences of blatant racism and classism from a horrible classmate. The other friend is fat and struggling with her body image, but supported by friends who love her unconditionally. Amal also manages to build a friendship with an elderly neighbor who’s a Greek Orthodox Christian immigrant.

The supporting cast showcases the diversity within Muslims and within Arabs. One of Amal’s Muslim friends, Yasmeen, has a Pakistani father and white British mother who converted to Islam. The other, Leila, has roots in Turkey, where her mother grew up. Amal’s family attends a family friend’s wedding where the bride is Syrian and the groom is Afghani. Beyond their ethnic differences, each of these characters has a different relationship with Islam and interprets and expresses it differently.

Amal’s thoughts, actions, and interactions with others actively debunk the notion that Muslim women are all oppressed and that Islam is inherently oppressive. Her agency and choice are emphasized throughout as she fights multiple people who assume her parents forced the hijab on her. The book very clearly calls out [white] feminists “who don’t get that this is me exercising my right to choose.”

Furthermore, Amal makes the distinction between cultural/social norms and religious doctrine, which are often conflated by people who are ignorant about Islam. She also reflects on the way culture and religion change over time, and how often immigrants cling to traditions and ideals that have become obsolete in their homeland since they left. These situations and thoughts bring nuance to Muslim identity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. However, there were certain patterns I noticed that interfered with my ability to fully embrace the book. Specifically, there were several cases of ableism and [internalized] misogyny.

Humor and sass feature prominently in Amal’s character, but a number of her quips were dismissive of people with disabilities, especially mental illness. For example, she disdains her mother’s “neat freak” tendencies (which are never explicitly labeled as OCD or OCPD but could be interpreted as such), calling her “neurotic.” She also refers to her decision to don the hijab at her snobby prep school as “psychotic.” In facing down another girl’s prejudice and meanness, she thinks that the other girl was probably dropped on her head as a child. Those are just a few examples.

Although the book tries to champion the woman-power, it doesn’t succeed completely because there are still noticeable instances of misogyny. Despite Amal’s discussion of how wearing the hijab is her choice and not something she should be judged for, she judges other girls for showing too much skin. She disdains girls as “bimbos” if they seem to care too much about their appearance and dress to get attention (by her assumption), which is hypocritical given her own tendency to spend a long time getting dressed and made up and her own insecurities about how she looks to other people. Although one character called out a white girl for making a racist statement, his comeback fell flat for me because the implied insult hinged on slut-shaming based on the girl’s perceived promiscuity.

Recommendation: Despite its flaws, I’d recommend this book for its strong character voice and nuanced representation of Muslims.

Review for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed


My Summary: Naila tries to please her parents, who give her considerable freedom in many ways. However, she breaks one of their strict rules about dating and boys by falling for Saif. When her parents find out that she has been dating him in secret, they decide to take her to Pakistan to “reconnect” with their roots. Unfortunately, their plans for Naila also involve forcing her to marry a man she doesn’t know. Alone and desperate, Naila must find a way to escape this nightmare.


Two different people I know had arranged marriages set up for them as early as middle school and high school (Indian American and Vietnamese American, respectively), so it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a real issue for Asian Americans. Although arranged marriage span a diverse spectrum of experiences and not all arranged marriages end up terribly, this book highlights the extreme end in which there is undeniable coercion involved.

Aisha Saeed doesn’t pull the punches in portraying Naila’s struggles as a captive in her relatives’ and in-laws’ homes. The violence of coercion, the isolation, the bullying and abuse from in-laws, the feelings of helplessness–all of these are laid bare through Naila’s first-person narration. You are immersed in her world and her emotional reality, and it pulls you in.

However, despite these obstacles and limits on Naila’s freedom, she holds onto her agency. She resists, she plots and attempts to escape. She needs help, but she isn’t just a passive victim waiting to be rescued. Although multiple people tell her there is nothing she can do to change her situation, she continues to fight for her free will and control over her fate. That is what makes Written in the Stars an empowering story to me.

Another thing I appreciated about the book was the epilogue. It isn’t a fairy tale happily-ever-after type of ending; it addresses the repercussions of Naila’s traumatic experiences on her life. It reflects on the contrasts between Naila’s former expectations and the reality she faces, both the setbacks and the gains she’s had.

My only point of dissatisfaction is that I wanted more substantial and in-depth exploration of the aftermath of the climax. Healing from trauma is a long process, and being able to watch and experience that through Naila’s perspective would have been great and empowering in its own way.

Overall, I really liked this book. It tackled a very serious and underexposed issue in an informative and entertaining fashion. It humanizes people who are so often dehumanized by their environment.

Recommendation: Read this book! In our current political climate, it’s more important than ever to uplift the voices of Muslim Americans.