Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Barakah Beats

Siddiqui, Maleeha. Barakah Beats
October 19th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nimra is excited but a little apprehensive about going to the public middle school earlier than expected. Her parents had her enrolled in Guided Light Acadamy, a private Islamic School, while she worked on the Hifz program, but now that she has memorized the Qur'an and had her celebration, they feel it's time for her to transition. Her best friend Jenna goes to Farmwell, so she won't be alone. Jenna isn't as supportive as Nimra thought she would be, and visibly balks when she finds that Nimra will be wearing her hijab every day. Nimra's parents are a bit more conservative than her grandparents, and her mother quit her job to stay home to take care of the family, and is now working with Nimra's father on their generic drug business, which takes up a lot of time. Nimra is conscientious about prayers and wearing her hijab in part because that is what her parents want, but she believes strongly in her religion and is proud that she worked hard to become a Hifz. Still, just like her parents and her grandparents, there are some intergenerational problems that she has. Her parents want her to take Spanish because it will be more useful, and don't want her to study art in school, although drawing is her absolute favorite thing to do. When Nimra is praying in the band room at lunch, she is approached by three 8th grade boys who have a Muslim band; Matthew, Bilal, and Waleed. They approach Nimra to sing with them, which sounds like a good idea to impress Jenna, who is ignoring her at school. The problem is that Nimra's parents think that Muslims shouldn't sing or dance in public. Bilal's sister, Khadijah, befriends Nimra and is a great comfort, since she also sets aside time to pray and wears a hijab. Nimra agrees to practice with the band, who are planning on performing at a benefit concert to raise money for refugees. Nimra knows her parents won't want her to perform, even though it is for a good cause, so she hides this from them. It's a delicate path to walk, especially since she has the group over to her house, and her parents know some of the boys' parents. When things go badly wrong with her friendship with Jenna, and at the same time, she feels that she needs to quit the band, how will she be able to stay in public school when all of her friends are mad at her. 
Strengths: Usually, when books show students entering middle school, especially a new one, they have trouble making friends. This has a delightful amount of wish fulfillment-- not only does Nimra transition to the new school well, she is friends with super popular kids a year older! For readers who are interested in music, there's a lot about performance and being in a band. The cover alone will entice readers who want a generally upbeat story with some more serious issues to balance things out. 
Weaknesses: I wish I had felt more of a connection between Jenna and Nimra. Jenna never came across as being a good friend. It's great that there are terms for prayers and different parts of Islamic culture, and I completely understand why there aren't notes at the end explaining them. For my students who aren't familiar with Muslim culture, I do have Ali-Karamali's Growing Up Muslim (2012) that would help, but it would have been a good way to educate people unfamiliar with the culture to include the terms in a glossary. If I had written a book about my 7th grade experience going through confirmation class at the United Methodist Church, I would have included notes about things like what MYF* means. 
What I really think: The blurb says this is like The First Rule of Punk meets Save Me a Seat, but I'd replace the latter title with Zia's The Garden of My Imaan, since it is more about religious issues than about fitting into a new country. This is a great title for readers who are interested in music, art, or friend drama.

*Methodist Youth Fellowship. If you don't know, you can look it up online, but sometimes it is a step people don't want to take. 

Ms. Yingling

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