Friday, June 25, 2021

Guy Friday--Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year

Hamza, Nina. Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year
June 22nd 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Moving from Hawaii to Minnesota is difficult enough, but the reason the family is moving makes it even harder; Ahmed's father has a rare liver disorder and needs a transplant. There are better doctors in Minnesota, so the family moves back to the father's hometown. This is a difficult move for the father, who lost his brother to the same liver disorder when the brother was twelve. There are advantages to moving home after twenty years, though. The family is supportive, and long time friend Janet, who would send care packages of leaves and maple syrup, is there as well. Ahmed is apprehensive about starting a new school, although his younger sister Sara is enthusiastic. Having gotten a letter from his teacher requesting that he read three books in preparation for his advanced language arts class (Holes, Bridge to Terebithia, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler), and having failed to read all of them, some of this fear is justified, but it is quickly replaced by confusion and irritation with his parents when Mrs. Gaarder turns out to be Janet! 
Strengths: While there is the serious issue of the father's illness, most of the book is upbeat and will be popular with fans of books like Gorman's Dork in Disguise (1999) or Weeks' Guy Time (1999). Both Indian and Minnesotan culture are well represented, and there is a bit of discussion about Ahmed's feelings at being unlike his classmates. Mrs. Gaarder is an enthusiastic teacher who wants her students to really explore and think critically about the books they read, and it's nice to see a novel encouraging academics. Geeky but in-charge Carl is a fun foil for Ahmed's insecurities, and classic bully Jack's motivation is made clear early on. The father's illness is handled realistically, and the impact on the entire family is shown. The bright cover and reasonable length will make this a go to title for many young readers. 
Weaknesses: This is a solid debut novel, but it follows the very old school formula of going through a school year. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this book and looking forward to whatever Ms. Hamza writes, but hope for a more updated feel to the next book. Another similar read is Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, and even that was written in 2010. 

I wish I could say that the book titles Ahmed is assigned are not indicative of what language arts teachers are using in 2021, but they aren't far off. We're seeing things change, but since I had a request from another school for my Lois Duncan books (which I read in middle school in the 1970s!), it is going to take some work. I'd like to have seen shout outs to titles like Yang's Front Desk or Venkatramen's The Bridge Home, which are being used in many schools. 

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