Sunday, September 22, 2013
Review: The Garden of My Imaan
Author: Farhana Zia
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Summary: Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in, feeling confident enough to talk to the cute boy or stand up to mean kids. The fact that she's Muslim is just another thing to deal with.
When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliya's school, Aliya wonders even more about who she is, what she believes, and where she fits in. Should she fast for Ramadan? Should she wear the hijab? She's old enough for both, but does she really want to call attention to herself? -- Cover image & summary via Goodreads
My Thoughts: There were many things I enjoyed about this book. First, the mix of formats kept things interesting. Zia provided a brief traditional story at the beginning followed by narrative and then there were also letters sprinkled throughout the text. Following her great-grandmother's advice, Aliya chose to complete her Sunday School assignment through letters to Allah. Second, I loved seeing the intergenerational interactions of Aliya's family. I especially appreciated that Aliya went to her mother, father, grandmother and great-grandmother expecting advice. It showed a beautiful respect and trust. As a person who hasn't experienced living with extended family (at least not for long periods of time), seeing how it might work was definitely interesting. Zia showed that Aliya liked some things about that situation, but that sometimes it was annoying - like when her great-grandmother required her to practice Urdu three times a week in addition to her piles of homework. Third, learning more about Islam and the wide variety of ways it is practiced was fascinating. I read and enjoyed the non-fiction book Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam earlier this year, but seeing those beliefs and practices through a fictional text made it even easier to see how it could look.
The glossary at the back was very helpful. There were two sections: one for the Arabic and one for the Urdu. There I found that imaan means belief. Aliya is struggling with her own beliefs. She doesn't know exactly what she believes and even if she does, she is not certain how to act on those beliefs. Aliya worries a lot about how other people see her. Regardless of culture, most middle grade students can relate to that concern. One of the reasons she worries is related to the bullying she sees. She doesn't want to stand out and give anyone another reason to pick on her. Marwa, the new girl, wears the hijab seemingly without concern. This gives Aliya a lot to think about. She wonders if other people are just braver.
Also, Aliya's mother explains what makes Aliya who she is - "A tasty concoction of American and Muslim and Indian and sugar and spice and everything that is very nice." This book celebrates the idea that we are more than our race, we are more than our languages and religions. Many things shape us and contribute to who we become. We see this through Aliya's friends with their differing backgrounds too.
Beliefs are obviously a central focus in this book, but bullying and getting along with others also plays a huge role. I loved that Aliya's father provides a "recipe for getting along." He says it's "A twist of good, a sprinkle of kind, and a dash of nice."
I would highly recommend this as a class read aloud. I think many students who enjoyed Wonder would also enjoy The Garden of My Imaan. It is a wonderful contemporary middle grade story about a girl trying to find her voice, and she will likely win your heart as you experience her story.
Q & A with Farhana Zia via The Streetlight Reader
Interview via PaperTigers Blog
A Peek at the Creative Space of Farhana Zia via Jennifer Bertman after the picture book release: Hot, Hot, Roti for Dada-ji (another fantastic book)