Our Friend is Here! Asian Heritage Month Edition – An Interview with Hena Khan, Author of Amina’s Voice & More to the Story; On Writing Young Muslim Characters and… A Sequel in the Works!

Our Friend is Here! Asian Heritage Month Edition. Author interview with Hena Khan. Author of Amina's Voice and More to the Story; on writing young muslim characters... and a sequel in the works! illustration of xiaolong the axolotl, her arms spread out wide as if she is showing off something, with hena as a blue penguin holding a book, wearing glasses, and waving at you!

Our Friend is Hereis a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)

Back in 2017 when I was only just discovering the beauty of diverse young adult literature, I never knew that there was an age category called ‘middle grade’. Though I had read middle grade as a younger reader, it never crossed my mind that I would enjoy middle grade as an adult — that is, until I read Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, which was the book that ignited my love for diverse literature for younger readers.

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Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi – An Escapist and Resonant “Slice of Life” Story

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi. Reviewed by Joce, The Quiet Pond.

Summary:

On paper, college dropout Pablo Rind doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. His graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour deli in Brooklyn is a struggle. Plus, he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Never mind the state of his student loans.

Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents. The brand is unstoppable. She graduated from child stardom to become an international icon and her adult life is a queasy blur of private planes, step-and-repeats, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them.

When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at the bodega in the dead of winter it’s absurd to think they’d be A Thing. But as they discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to defy the deafening expectations of everyone else, Lee and Pab turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.

Joce’s review:

Permanent Record is a novel that takes its time. It acknowledges the reverberation of unresolved parental marital issues that trickles down into parenting styles, in minute and nuanced ways. It’s not a book that spelled everything out for me, but that’s the way I like things: kind of like a slice of life manga or anime. It’s a snippet into these people’s lives as opposed to A Story with exact plot points where you can see the outline, and the perfect novel for a hazy rainy day.

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Five Reasons To Read: More to the Story by Hena Khan – Inspired by Little Women; A Lovely and Empathetic Story about Four Muslim Sisters, Ambition & Illness

More to the Story by Hena Khan. Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond.

Summary:

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…

CW’s Review:

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.

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Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – A Candid and Eye-Opening Story about the Extremities of Forced Arranged Marriages

Text: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. Image: A brown girl with long dark hair wearing a simple brown and black salwar kameez, looking up into the dark blue night sky.
Blurb:

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

My review:

Note: my review will discuss forced marriages.

I like to think that I have read a lot of books – books that have made me feel an array of things, including shock, anger, and pain. However, Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed may just be one of the most difficult and heart-rending books that I have ever read. It tells the story of Naila, a Pakistani-American teen who, after her parents discover that she has a boyfriend despite their rules against this, is whisked off away to Pakistan for, what is initially assumed to be, a holiday and an opportunity for Naila to connect to her roots and culture – but turns out to be a trip that will change her life forever. Despite that reading this book was incredibly tough for me, this book is so important and should absolutely be read by everyone.

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