Published by Peachtree Publishers on March 1, 2016
Genres: MG Contemporary
Source: YA Books Central
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 shes Muslim is just another thing to deal with. When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliya's 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?
Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality
Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Aliya and her family are Indian Muslims; her best friend Winnie is Korean; Marwa’s family is Moroccan)
Intersectionality: 4 (the book’s focus on Muslim girlhood creates plenty of intersections between gender and racial-ethnic identity)
One review of The Garden of My Imaan calls the book a modern homage to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, that classic book parents gave to their kids when puberty threatened to rear its ugly head and begin the monthly misery of menstruation. I never got to read that one because I was an ace at odd things like not getting to read things that were “normal” for kids my age to read. That continued all the way into high school. ANYWAY. The Garden of My Imaan is far from perfect, but it has a lot of value for its audience even if it’s a bit didactic.
I’m used to seeing most MG and YA Muslim rep in the form of Arab Muslims, but Aliya provides a different perspective as a tween girl from an Indian Muslim family. Her family observes Ramadan as many other practicing Muslims around the world do, but their cultural practices as an Indian family are mixed in as well. Aliya dynamic with her family is lovely, especially when it involves her grandmother and great-grandmother.
At times, it seems to offer commentary on how people of color can perpetuate racism against other people of color as well. Though it’s a one-scene wonder and never comes up again, Aliya’s grandmother expects Aliya’s half-Korean best friend Winnie to be good at math because Asian people are “all the same.” Sadly, it’s played off as a joke.
It demonstrates the same point a bit unintentionally as well through Winnie’s mangling of the Spanish language on a basic level. Winnie once calls someone a “loco mujer” and “crazy woman” is offered as a translation. Later, she says Aliya looks “precioso” in something. As soon as you learn adjectives in Spanish, you’re taught that they’re gendered and typically placed after a noun, not before it. “Mujer loca” is how to correctly call a woman crazy; if a girl looks beautiful or beautiful in something, she looks preciosa. Some adjectives like inteligente (intelligent) don’t change form based on the noun’s gender, but the two used in the book do.
If there’s a term for when a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is entirely platonic, The Garden of My Imaan is guilty of using the trope through Marwa, the hijabi girl and new kid at Aliya’s school. Marwa exists to say whichever sage thing Aliya needs to hear at a given time and teach Aliya to be more comfortable with her Muslim-ness. The book’s heavy focus on Aliya leaves Marwa bereft of her own character arc and reduce her to a heavily didactic character in a novel that already feels more like a teaching tool than a reading experience.
Typically, a book like The Garden of My Imaan would be a little too didactic for my tastes, but this is 2016. Due to an outdated, broken electoral system, a minority of the United States pushed an openly racist and Islamophobic man into the presidency and the world will suffer for it. With rhetoric like his shaping the world, The Garden of My Imaan is highly necessary and offers a new view into life for Muslim families post-9/11.