Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in, feeling confident enough to talk to the cute boy or stand up to mean kids. The fact that she’s Muslim is just another thing to deal with. When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliyas school, Aliya wonders even more about who she is, what she believes, and where she fits in. Should she fast for Ramadan? Should she wear the hijab? She’s old enough for both, but does she really want to call attention to herself?
This book tells the story of Aliya, an Indian American girl of, I’m guessing, around 11 years old. She feels American through and through, just like her other school friends, but a few events that follow in quick succession make her begin to question her identity and where she stands in life. When she goes to Sunday school to learn about Islam she wears a headscarf and some of her friends there even wear the hijab, but during the rest of the week she doesn’t because her mother beliefs that modesty is not inherently linked to the covering of your hair. She doesn’t always fast during Ramadan either, because her parents believe her schoolwork will suffer if she doesn’t eat all day. Then a new girl arrives at her ‘normal’ school, a Moroccan girl called Marwa, and she wears the hijab. The headmistress asks Aliya to show her around and make her feel welcome, even though they’re not even in the same class. The reason why she asked Aliya and not another girl? Because she’s a Muslim too. Aliya doesn’t like the fact that she’s been singled out and made to feel different from her friends, because before Marwa’s arrival she was never regarded as “the Muslim girl”. At the same time she gets an assignment from her Sunday school to do a project about what Islam means to her, and she decides to keep a diary with letters addressed to Allah. In these letters she vents her frustration and misunderstanding of the world and the people around her, but after a while she finds that the manner of her writing begins to change, and her way of seeing the world begins to change for the better as well. She eventually befriends Marwa, and she shows Aliya that your identity and your religion is something to be proud of, and that it’s okay to be different. Marwa wears her hijab with pride and isn’t at all fazed by the comments people make about it. Many other things happen in Aliya’s life as well which I won’t go into because it’s too much to discuss here, but over the course of maybe 9 months you see the changes the young girl goes through and by the end she’s changed for the better. She no longer struggles with her identity as much, and she’s beginning to find her own way in the world.
I really enjoyed reading this book, especially because it’s written from a young girl’s perspective and I love the way children see the world. They don’t seem to care about different skin colours and religions unless it’s pointed out to them. And I think that this is what the author is trying to show, that being different is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a good thing as long as people respect one another and allow other people to be themselves. I think it’s terribly important that children read books like this one, because if we want to create a respectful and understanding generation we need to start teaching them at an early age.