More to the Story

S. & S./Salaam Reads. Sept. 2019. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481492096.
Gr 4-6–The Pakistani American Mirza sisters live in Norcross, GA, and each shares a first initial with one of the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Jameela, the heroine and narrator, feels less polished than her older sister, Maryam; less virtuous than her younger sister Bisma; and less patient than she should be with Aleeza, the youngest. Jameela is most comfortable in her skin when she’s writing, and she plans to publish a story for her school paper that will make her father, who is overseas for a new job, proud. She is also delighted to make friends with Ali, the son of family friends, who has recently moved to Georgia. When Bisma is diagnosed with lymphoma and Jameela breaks Ali’s trust after publishing an off-the-record interview, she feels that she is losing her sister and a new friend in addition to her absent father. Jameela is a devoted journalist, and her curious, inquisitive voice makes her an engaging narrator. Simple, straightforward language will be accessible to middle grade readers, and the tone is informative but never didactic on topics such as journalism ethics. This is a positive and loving portrayal of a Muslim family, and details of Pakistani culture and Muslim observance are not given heavy-handed explanations, but are simply included as essential details of the Mirzas’ existence. Readers may be inspired to compare notes with Little Women, but can enjoy this without having met the March sisters.
VERDICT This thoughtful update of Alcott’s classic text features an American Muslim family and deftly balances issues such as microaggressions and cancer treatment with typical middle grade tropes such as sibling rivalry, a first crush, and an early adolescent search for identity

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