Published in 1999, by Stoddart Kids
A Children’s book Review by: Anila Akram
When I was young, I remember my elementary school librarian passing around a book list of her favourite middle school reads. On it was Judy Blume, and her quintessential “coming of age” novel: “Are you There God? It’s me, Margaret.”
This early chapter book was about a sixth-grader, comically navigating through a myriad of pre-teen female issues – from buying her first bra to her first period.
I remember loving it for its real, honest and heated take on ten-year-old life. But I also explicitly remember thinking that Margaret is not me – and that Margaret doesn’t know anyone like me. As a young Muslim girl from an immigrant family, I was left to draw my own similarities between Margaret and myself, so the book never felt as poignant for me as I imagined it did for countless other young girls.
Then one day, a book landed on my desk, from a well-meaning student teacher. This book, by Canadian author Rukhsana Khan, had a young brown girl on the cover, tugging at her long, dark, curly hair in frustration. That was enough – I was hooked.
Middle-schooler Zainab, is proud, stubborn – and thoroughly confused by life. With a bossy older sister Layla, and an overbearing mother, Zainab wants nothing more than to fit in. She wants Lucky brand jeans, and she just wants to be noticed by Kevin, the hottest and most popular boy in school. But she can never fit in – she’s an Indian Muslim girl with an embarrassingly brown family. They don’t just look brown, they behave brown – and if you’ve had immigrant parents, you know exactly what that means.
On top of that, her teachers assume that she’s automatically going to be friends with the only other Indian girl in the school – Premini Gupta, even though Premini is Hindu and the two want nothing to do with each other. Instead, Zainab is best friends with pimple-faced, big-bosommed Jenny (who unfortunately also has a huge crush on Kevin).
In a heroic attempt to improve her social standing, Zainab’s teacher, Mr. Weiss, puts her in charge of their school play, thereby placing her in direct contact with all the “popular” students. But, a dream-come-true quickly becomes a nightmare as this newfound popularity turns her life upside-down.
Though this book was originally published in 1999, it is an absolute must in every South Asian home. While it deals specifically with a Muslim character, it is a touching and funny story about a young girl balancing home life and public life in North America. It’s an un-preachy take on fitting in – especially when you add culture into the mix.
Because this is my first review for Masalamommas.com, I felt it was important not just to introduce myself and my personal reading tastes, but to share titles that I feel are staples for every South Asian family. When we speak of Canadian classics, this is one that is unique to the pre-teen South Asian identity – it will make for a great Masalamomma read and an even better Masalamomma mother-daughter discussion.
More about Anila:
Anila Akram is the co-founder and community manager at Mailatale, a
subscription service for curated monthly children’s book boxes. Sign up at
www.mailatale.ca to receive a monthly personalized package of wonderful
children’s titles, for ages birth to ten!
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