“Today there are at least an estimated 3.5 million Americans of Arabic-speaking descent, and they live in all fifty states. […] The purpose of this book isn’t to separate them out but to fold their experience into the mosaic of American history and deepen our understanding of who we Americans are.” p. xi
A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek.
Free Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009.
Nonfiction, 292 pages.
A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.
I picked this book up on a whim, but it turned out to be very interesting nonetheless. Mostly, I wanted to know why America was misspelled in the title (Amreeka is the Arabic word for America), and after looking at the blurb, I thought this could be an interesting perspective on American history which I personally had not very much considered before.
Much like Prisoners Without Trial, this book opened my eyes to another important part of American history. Similar to that book, this one also deals with a limited time period, since immigration laws prevented large numbers of Arab immigrants prior to the 1960s. However, Malek tells her story in a very different (although just as engaging) way.
After a brief forward explaining the background, format and scope of the book, she takes snapshots from various Arab-American lives and uses them to illustrate a wide variety of experiences and time periods. In between these vignettes are brief chapters that give immigration statistics, updates on legal and cultural developments, and information about world politics that had bearing on Arab-American lives.
“I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it.” page 2
Saints and Misfits: a novel by S.K. Ali.
Salaam Read, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
YA contemporary, 328 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Janna just wants to live her life – hang out with her friends, study, work her very part-time jobs, pray, and maybe dream a little about her secret haram crush. But something has changed her world, something unthinkable, horrible, and so big she doesn’t know what to do.
For some reason I thought this was a light and fluffy read. However, I completely misunderstood, because by chapter two we’re reliving one of the worst moments of Janna’s life, when she is assaulted by a man who is supposedly holy, the man she calls the Monster.
Indeed, the title of each short chapter (Saints, Misfits, or Monsters) relates to how she sees the main people she’s interacting with in that chapter. Some chapters contain more than one category, or a comment as she begins to realize that some of those she sees as Saints are really Misfits, etc.
“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile: 1090L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.
I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library. The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.
“Each time I remove my scarf I pass it through my fingers, in awe of what a simple thing it is, the dilemma it poses. The rules from the Iranian embassy are surprisingly unclear, open to bewildering interpretation.” page 31
The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec.
Twelve, Hachett Book Group, New York, 2014. My edition 2017.
Memoir, 230 pages including extras.
Jennifer Klinec is a fearless jet-setter, leaving her London life behind to explore the culinary arts of every corner of the world. This book is the story of her month in Iran, wearing a headscarf, finding locals who will let her cook with them, and unexpectedly falling in love.
This was so random. I had a long afternoon and wanted a book, so I grabbed this one, but then ended up reading another book that I already had instead. It sat on the shelf for a while – I have to be honest that the subtitle reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love which was a DNF for me. And there were some legitimate concerns about how Klinec would portray Iran, since she’s an outsider, a Canadian with Serbo-Croation roots living in London.
However, once I got started, I enjoyed this book. Klinec lays everything bare. She is brutally honest yet insightful, and not afraid to make herself, or her loved ones look bad. There were points where I disliked Klinec as well as others in the story, but I did feel that she was telling the truth as objectively as she could, given that she was a major participant. When she’s viewing things through her own unique lens, she’s generally up front about the perspective.
Amina’s Voice is a great new Muslim #ownvoices MG novel. Here’s my take on the Wisconsin references in the book.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan.
Salaam Reads imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 197 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: Not yet leveled.
Amina is shy and a little afraid of some of the big changes coming with middle school, like a chance to enter a singing contest or her uncle coming to stay. Her best friend is Soojin, a Korean immigrant who’s finally becoming an American citizen and wants to change her name. They find that their different cultures have some cultural norms in common, and they bonded over having unusual names. But if Soojin changes her name, is she also going to change her best friend?
There are going to be lots of reviews of this book, so I thought for my review, I’d take a different perspective. Kirin at Notes from an Islamic School Librarian reviewed Amina’s Voice and had only one issue with it, which confirmed my idea that this #ownvoice novel is a great representation of Muslim culture.
Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mark Elliott.
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 183 pages.
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 5.0 points)
Abby is a smart sixth grader who could care less about homework but is obsessed with mountain climbing. Sadeed is the top of his school in Afghanistan, living right next to real life mountains. When Abby’s about to flunk 6th grade, she has an emergency project to complete – write to a pen pal in another country. What starts off as a quick project turns into a real connection.
The premise seemed to work okay, but as I often feel with two-person stories, one side was definitely lacking. The chapters about Abby had a lot more realism and detail. Sadeed’s chapters started off strong but while the premise was interesting, seemed to lack the specifics and connection that would have made me care about him. Even when his village was undergoing a lot of problems, it just felt dramatic and not real. The scenes with him and his sister were probably the best on his side.