Although I technically started the challenge yesterday evening, I’m only just over 2 hours in now; I fell asleep after only an hour of reading last night! But I woke up and jumped right back in this morning around 7:45am over coffee and oatmeal. And now I’ve finished my first book of the challenge: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia. Working with 7-12 grade students, I don’t get to catch up on the great fiction being published for the younger end of middle grade as often as I’d like. However, whenever I can I sneak some titles in, especially over the summer. I enjoy getting an idea about what some of my new middle school students might have encountered before they arrived in my library, occasionally discovering titles with appeal for my 7th graders, and the novels are often fabulous!
In her first middle grade novel, Farhana Zia has crafted a sweet and appealing coming of age story focused on Aliya, an Indian-American fifth grader who deals with ordinary middle school struggles while trying to come to terms with her Muslim identity. Like many middle schoolers, Aliya simply wants to fit in. She wants to liked, to blend in, and to avoid her school’s bullies. As Ramadan approaches, a new girls arrives at school. Marwa is also Muslim (although her family is from Morocco) and she wears the hijab & responds to mocking or teasing with a calm confidence. Between Marwa’s frustrating example and her newest Sunday school assignment to find a way to improve herself during Ramadan, Aliya begins to reconsider her desperate need to blend in and discovers that she too can be a little more fearless in the face of unkindness & a little more willing to stand out in the crowd.
While the characters can occasionally feel a little flat and the dialogue has stilted moments, The Garden of My Imaan is overall an accessible and gently amusing middle grade tale. Aliya’s letters to Allah–obviously an homage to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret–are a familiar but effective device. Aliya’s narration possesses both humor and honesty and her individual growth through the course of the story is clearly portrayed without reading as preachy. Additionally, the novel realistically portrays the contemporary U.S. as a global and multicultural society. The story emphasizes the fact that Muslims come from many different countries and illustrates the variety within the Muslim community as well as the sense of connection shared religious traditions can initiate. I also enjoyed seeing a multigenerational family portrayed with such humor and ease.
A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars from me!
Next, I plan to read a story or two from Diverse Energies and begin Pointe by Brandy Colbert.
48HBC Stats Update
Hours read: 2 hours
Hours blogged: .75 hours
Books Read: 1 book
Pages Read: 225 pages
Total Challenge Hours: 2.75 hours