Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia
Author Bio: Farhana Zia grew up in India.
Friends, boys, religious identity, The Garden of My Imaan is just the thing for middle-school readers who are figuring out who they are and how they fit in.
Like many tweens, Aliya just wants to fit it. She doesn’t know how the girls in her religion class can be so calm and certain about wearing a hijab. Such a visible sign of your religion would make you a target for sure.
When a new girl, Marwa shows up at Aliya’s school wearing a hijab, Aliya doesn’t quite know what to do. The principal wants them to be friends, but Aliya doesn’t get it. Why should she have to be friends with Marwa just because she’s Muslim too? Being associated with Marwa would just make her seem more different. Will she ever get comfortable with her own identity?
The more I read, the more it becomes clear that I just don’t have patience with the whining exhibited by many fictional preteens and Aliya is no exception. Luckily for me, Aliya’s mother has little patience for it either. With a family that challenges, encourages and supports her and friends that show her how to be more comfortable being herself, Aliya grows up a lot over the course of the book.
Age Recommendation: This will resonate most with students in Grades 4-8.
On Friendship: Aliya has lots of good friends, but like most kids, she also experiences being left out, being teased and being bullied. While some of these issues resolve in a satisfying way, it’s also the case that some of them end up a bit cliche like the boy who’s a terrible bully but really might just have learning issues and need a friend. I’ve been loving the recent spate of books that tell it like it is and don’t end with everyone all chummy, so this was a bit of a disappointment in that regard.
On Religion: This was an interesting perspective on being Muslim. Aliya’s family is not as observant as some and she and her family discuss their religious choices and what would happen if Aliya decided she wanted to wear the hijab. Although many of Aliya’s friends have chosen to fast for Ramadan, Aliya is still just trying. She takes days off and manages to fast on other days. Her parents are very supportive and encouraging, however her religion teacher is displeased with her. Aliya’s level of observance and the disconnect between what she’s told by her teacher and what her parents approve is something I think a lot of Christians (maybe Catholics in particular) experience, so I think it’s something that will speak to lots of readers.
Accents: I’m always unsure when characters have accents and improper grammar (feel free to share your feelings in the comments section). It’s a fine line between showing how people talk and well, being racist. In this book, many characters are shown as not speaking in “proper English”. A woman who is from Morocco speaks with an accent. Aliya’s Indian grandmothers do as well. Sister Khan, the religion teacher also does. Choti Dahdi also speaks with an accent and mispronounces words.
Racism – The characters in this book face a lot of racism, whether it be subtle or overt and aggressive. But sometimes the characters themselves are racist. Here’s an accounting. Aliya’s mother is told to go back to the desert and drive a camel by another driver. Her great grandmother tells a girl that “Chinese people are suppose be very smart with numbers”. The girl replies that she’s half-Korean not Chinese. The great-grandmother says “Chinese, Korean, same thing”. A girl in Aliya’s class insists that Aliya must not celebrate Thanksgiving and if she does, she probably ruins the turkey with smelly spices. This girl also says that a girl wearing a hijab is wearing “funny headgear”. Graffiti in the girls’ bathroom says that the school should ban headscarves and stinky cheese and that Marwa should go home. A girl has her hijab ripped off and stepped on. A boy tells a girl she’s probably an illegal alien. A boy tells Marwa to go home to Iran or Iraq with the rest of the terrorists. Someone calls a hijabi a “talking tent”. Yet another girl has her hijab pulled off. Both the security service at the mall and the police blow her off and refuse to take the assault seriously. There’s talk about whether wearing a hijab is risking attack, especially since 9/11.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A girl has a boyfriend. Girls talk about getting their period. Aliya asked her mother if she could wear a bra. Girls have crushes on boys. A girl’s boyfriend was spotted making out with another girl. A girl imagines a boy kissing her on the lips. Another girl kisses a boy.
Profanity – “moron”, “jerk”, “idiot”, “darn”, “stupid”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A girl says she would have liked to punch someone. A girl shoves a boy who has been verbally bullying her.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Child slavery is mentioned very briefly. A boy repeatedly threatens a girl telling her he’ll get her and that she’s dead meat.