More to the Story closely follows Little Women, but with contemporary Muslim-American girls.
More to the Story by Hena Khan. Simon and Shuster (Salaam Reads), 2019, 272 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 9-13
“This is the worst Eid ever!” Aleeza complains—and right now, at the first words, it might be helpful to know that Eid is the Muslim equivalent of Christmas and Aleeza’s words echo Jo March’s in Little Women: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents!” This modern updating will follow the general outline of the author’s favorite book as a child, with Maryam, Jameela, Bisma, and Aleeza sharing character qualities and life issues of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Jameela is our narrator, a lively girl interested in sports but with particular aspirations to become a writer. She’s also very close to her father, who unfortunately has had to take a job in Abu Dhabi for the next six months. That’s a long way from Atlanta, and all the girls will miss his corny humor and wise presence. Jameela most of all. But when Bisma, the quiet, gentle one, is diagnosed with a serious disease, Baba’s absence becomes even more painful as the girls and their mama must take on additional burdens to get by.
This is a sound plot (having stood the test of time!) well told, with many positives. The girls are all realistically portrayed and sympathetic, especially Jameela, with her particular strengths and weaknesses. Temper is one of those weaknesses, a fault mama confesses she shares (“Your default reaction in many situations—like when you’re frustrated or hurt—is anger. But you need to rein it in. For your sake, and for others.” Baba is a sterling example of loving and wise fatherhood, even though he’s absent for most of the book. Little Women fans will enjoy tracking similarities in plot, character and theme.
- Muslim faith is more clearly delineated here than in the author’s previous novels. It might be instructive to compare Jameela’s prayer to Allah on page 156 with the Lord’s prayer.
- There is one “my God” and one character says “bloody hell”—which might not sound that bad here, but back in his home in England, it’s serious swearing.
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic/literary value: 4
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Also by Hena Khan: Power Forward. And check back tomorrow, for a post on the enduring significance of Little Women.