By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
More to the Story
By Hena Khan
Salaam Reads, 2019
Jameela Mirza has just been named features editor of her middle school newspaper—quite the honor for a seventh grader. Now she’s one step closer to becoming an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather was in Pakistan. She just needs to remember this whenever the editor-in-chief shuts down her story ideas.
When Jameela is assigned to write a story about the new boy in school, it seems like her biggest challenge is trying to find a good angle to make his story interesting. But then her world gets turned upside down. Jameela and her three sisters are devastated when their father accepts a job overseas, taking him away from their Atlanta home for six months. And then her younger sister gets seriously ill.
Now Jameela has to figure out how to write an article to make her dad proud and be there for her sister.
Inspired by “Little Women,” “More to the Story” follows a young girl trying to prove herself and meet expectations—mostly set by herself. Jameela is a strong protagonist with very strong opinions she’s not afraid to share. Given my chosen profession, I particularly enjoyed how passionate she is about journalism, her dedication to being a good reporter, and her integrity and commitment to transparency and accountability when she makes mistakes.
Khan does a great job of laying out an ethical dilemma professional journalists face and the process Jameela and the rest of the newspaper club go through to address it.
Another thing I appreciated about the story is how Khan tackles issues many families face every day, including financial struggles and illness. She doesn’t shy away from the topics but addresses them in a way young readers would understand through Jameela’s eyes. Jameela might still be in middle school, but like most kids her age, she’s more aware of things than adults realize—a good reminder for readers of all ages.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
By Syed M. Masood
Little, Brown Books, 2020
Danyal Jilani knows his strengths. He may not be all that smart, but he’s funny, gorgeous (his words), and on his way to becoming a great chef. His dad doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is what Danyal’s longtime crush, Kaval—and her family—think since they don’t see him as the ideal arranged marriage prospect.
When Danyal, who is Pakistani American, gets selected for Renaissance Man, an academic competition at his school, it’s his chance to prove to everyone he’s smarter than they think. To help him on his quest is Bisma, who is definitely not interested in him. But the more they work together, the more Danyal realizes that he might be interested in her.
“Pretty Face” is the story about a young man figuring out who he is and what he wants for his life, while exceeding everyone’s—including his own—expectations. Danyal is not your stereotypical model minority. He’s terrible when it comes to academics (was even held back a year in school) and has no plans to go to college. It was refreshing to have a character who is content with not fitting the mold. Not all Asians get straight A’s and strive to become a doctor and Danyal shows readers that that’s just fine.
I also appreciated Masood’s portrayal of arranged marriages and how Danyal approached them. It’s not uncommon in stories about multicultural characters that reject one culture in favor of the dominant one. Danyal’s not like this. He knows his dating life will be different from most of his peers and tries to figure out how to make things work. His acceptance is a great reminder to readers that just because someone else’s practices are different, it doesn’t make them better or worse than what you know. It’s just different.
By Mary H. K. Choi
Simon & Schuster, 2020
College dropout. Graveyard shift at a 24-hour deli. Credit card and student loan debt up to his eyeballs. On paper, things aren’t great for Pablo Rind.
They’re not much better in real life either but the half-Korean, half-Pakistani 20-year-old is scraping by—barely.
Then there’s Leanna Smart. Pop juggernaut and child-star-turned-international-icon with legions of fans (Smartees) and social media followers.
Her brand is unstoppable, but her life is a blur: touring, private jets, fan meet-and-greets, and visiting cities and countries, but never really seeing them.
When Leanna walks into Pablo’s deli toward the end of his shift, it’s absurd to think anything would come of it, but before Pablo knows what’s happening, the two become a thing. Together, they navigate who they are, who they want to be, and how to meet others’ expectations of them. But as they turn to each other and get closer, things get more and more complicated.
“Permanent Record” is the story about two young people trying to figure out their lives and how they fit in with each other. Although Pablo’s struggles might be more obvious, both of them are having a hard time dealing with being who others want them to be—something many people can relate to, regardless of their financial situation or level of fame, or lack thereof.
The story is told from Pablo’s point of view and in addition to the one he shares with Leanna are Pablo’s relationships with his family and friends-slash-roommates. Choi does a great job of portraying the ups and downs he goes through with them, from his parents worrying about his future, to his friends calling him out when he’s being a jerk. As much as Pablo might roll his eyes, it’s clear the people in his life care about him and he does appreciate it (eventually). And it’s this care that makes him—and the reader—realize it’s okay to ask for help when you’re going through a hard time.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.