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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Diversity in Literature, LOVELACE nominee 2020, Middle Grade Readers

AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Khan……a 2020 LOVELACE nominee Division I

Amina’s Voice is the story of Amina as she begins middle school. Amina has always been quiet and struggles to put herself in a position where she would need to speak up for herself–or for others.  The advent of middle school brings with it confusing social changes as her best friend, Soojin, seems to be interested in new things (in addition to the topics and activities they have enjoyed together) and in developing friendships with more people.  Khan does an excellent job of having Amina describe her feelings of jealousy and abandonment as Soojin seems to become friends with another student in their class.  At the same time Amina is aware of feeling slightly guilty about feeling jealous of Soojin.  I know many readers will identify with those feelings and watch closely as Amina works through them.

Amina is Pakistani-American and her heritage features significantly in the story in a truly brilliant way. Amina’s culture is inextricably wound throughout the story from how her religious beliefs inform her thoughts, feelings and decisions to customs and celebrations of a Muslim household.  Its brilliance lies in the fact that the story clearly shows how being Muslim is one facet of who she is in this world. Her religious beliefs contribute to the whole makeup of Amina as a human being in the same way being female and being a middle schooler inform her thoughts and actions.  This fact, along with Amina’s genuine voice,  creates a reader response when her mosque is vandalized that is more impactful than it would be otherwise.  It makes you feel as if you are experiencing the attack from the inside, rather than the outside of the situation–two radically different perspectives.

Amina’s Voice is a great reading choice for middle grade readers. I could easily see this as a read-aloud in a 4th or 5th grade classroom. It offers a springboard for discussion about friendships, growing up and insight. It offers younger readers an opportunity to have discussions about how diversity relates to fear, hate, acceptance and celebration within our communities.

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