When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.
Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…
After reading Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan back in 2017, I vowed to myself that if Hena Khan wrote more middle-grade novels, I would read it in an instant. Fortunately, I came across Hena’s latest middle-grade book, More to the Story, by chance – and I am so so happy that I read it!
More to the Story is a middle-grade retelling of Little Women and centers on four Muslim Pakistani-American sisters who live in Georgia. The story follows Jameela “Jam” Mirza, an aspiring journalist and writer at her middle school newspaper, and her four sisters. When the girls discover that their father has to move away for work for awhile, she decides to write an article that will make her father proud. But when her younger sister becomes gravely ill, Jam’s world is turned upside down.
I adored More to the Story. I love that this story has the same degree of warmth, tenderness and empathetic storytelling that I loved in Amina’s Voice but explores real topics in a sensitive and honest way. I believe that More to the Story is the kind of story that is for everyone – though, if you need some persuading, here are five brilliant reasons why you should read More to the Story.
1. A contemporary take on Little Women that young readers will love
It has been years since I’ve read Little Women and I thoroughly enjoyed all the small nods and references to the classic. What I loved about More to the Story was how Khan took what was familiar in Little Women and transformed it into a relatable story with a fantastic and younger voice about Pakistani-American sisters. Better yet? You don’t have to have read Little Women to appreciate More to the Story; it superbly stands on its own.
2. Follows a fantastic heroine with a big heart and big dreams
I loved the heroine of More to the Story. Jameela, or Jam, was such a wonderful protagonist that has such a big heart and has big dreams of becoming a journalist just like her grandfather. I feel like readers can learn so much from Jameela; she has these wonderful dreams but she is also committed to something that she cares about and is a step closer to her dream: being the ‘Features’ editor in her middle school newspaper. Younger readers will learn valuable lessons through Jameela’s journey, particularly when she has to confront and reflect on her mistakes, and learn and grow from them.
3. Has a fantastic portrayal of ambition and doing what is right
What I loved about More to the Story is that it explores ambition. Specifically, I really loved that the story empowers and celebrate Jam’s ambition to be a journalist and that the characters around her are supportive of her dream. Just as importantly, I liked that More to the Story adds more complexity by also exploring the potential negative impacts that unchecked ambition can have. The book explores Jam’s mistakes in a gentle way, shows how sometimes honest mistakes can hurt the most genuine relationships, but also highlights the importance of doing the right thing.
4. Explores illness within the family in an honest and sensitive way
More to the Story also explores the impact of illness can have on a family. Not only does it honestly and sensitively portray the burden this can have on all members of her family – to Jam’s parents to her other sisters and to herself – but it also highlights how families can come together in solidarity and help each other get through challenging times. (The good news to put your mind at ease: there is no death in the book, and the character who gets ill does recover!)
5. An empowering story about facing life’s many challenges
At the heart of the story, More to the Story is a wonderful middle-grade about how we go through many challenges in life. I loved that the narrative understands that tough times are indeed tough and nothing to be taken lightly, but it also celebrates the importance of supporting one another and having meaningful support systems. It’s an empowering and wholesome story that takes its subject matters and themes seriously without being too heavy or overwhelming for younger readers.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Along with Amina’s Voice, Hena Khan demonstrates why she’s a fantastic writer with wonderful stories that have incredible power to empower our young people, especially younger Pakistani readers. I cannot wait to see what Hena writes next; I’ll definitely be reading it!
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Pakistani-American girl deals with tough stuff in her family while also taking on the big responsibility of being features editor at her school’s newspaper.
Perfect for: readers who love middle-grade novels; readers looking for more Pakistani or West Asian rep; readers who love wholesome retellings.
Think twice if: you are not a fan of middle-grade.
Genre: middle grade, contemporary
Trigger/content warning: cancer (lymphoma), side character’s death of parent, racist microaggressions (challenged)