Sunday, November 3, 2019

MMGM: More to the Story by Hena Khan

**May Contain Spoilers**
This re-imagining of Louisa May Alcott's 1868/69 novel Little Women has been wonderfully updated for today's readers. It is still the story of the four sisters and their parents, the Mirza family of Pakistani Americans Muslims, no longer living in 19th century New England, but in present day Atlanta, Georgia. And hurray, Laurie isn't gone either, he is now a British Pakistani boy named Ali, 14, sent to the US from London by his mother, who hopes to soon follow him to Atlanta with his sister. Ali is  living with the honorary Auntie and Uncle of the Mirza sisters.

The novel is narrated by Jameela, 13 and an aspiring writer and author of a family newsletter called Mirza Memos and hoping to be the new Editor of the school newspaper. The story begins on Eid, and Jam, sisters Aleeza, 10, Bisma, 11, and Maryam, 15, are upset at the news that their father won't be there for the first time. Baba had recently lost his contract job at the Center for Disease Control and was in Maryland for an interview.

The good news for the family is that Baba does get a job - the family really needs the income, but it's setting up a hospital in Abu Dhabi, meaning he will have to live there for the length of his contract. The not-so-good news for Jam is that she's named Features Editor of the school paper, and her nemesis Travis is named Editor. Jam has always wanted to be an awarding winning journalist like her dada was, hoping to make her own father as proud of her as he was of his father. Since Jam and Ali are in the same school, she decides to do a interview with him for the paper. It's a great piece, within from a particular point of view, but using some off-the-record comments Ali made to her in confidence. Jam has to rewrite the article, leaving out those comments, but when the first article is inadvertently published, she has some hard lessons to learn about journalism and ethics. And now, Ali won't return her apology text messages.

Meanwhile, Bisma, who shares a room with Jameela, begins complaining of a lump in her neck. When it's diagnosed as leukemia, the family really pulls together while she is undergoing treatment. Not knowing what to do about Bisma, Jam sets up a blog on the CaringBridge website, enabling her to "keep a [private] journal, get comments from people who follow you, organize help with meals and rides and more." (pg 191) Slowly, Jam realizes that perhaps winning awards isn't as important as recording her sister's "journey to life" (pg 238) and subsequently making a difference for kids with cancer.

Oh, I just loved reading More to the Story. I loved the parallels to Little Women, so much came back to me despite not having read it since about 4th grade. But more importantly, I loved the differences, beginning with the wonderful close-knit Mirza family and Jam as a deliciously flawed protagonist. Yet, despite the trouble it causes, her article,  for the school paper, especially, has something to teach us all about how important our words are: "...[kids']words can make as much of a difference as adults' do - if we can get an audience that's bigger than our teachers and parents." (pg. 89) Now, that audience would be the young readers discovering this wonderful novel.

So what was Jam's article about. Well, it was called "Pardon Me? What Did You Say?" and it was about microaggressions, and although that wasn't the main part of the novel, it was a very important part. First of all, how often do you see the word microaggression in a middle grade novel? Not often, perhaps not often enough. Jam's article does make a difference, even nemesis Travis admits he had never heard the word. But the most important take-away is this - microaggressions hurt, or to quote Jam's friend Thu: "People say things that I guess are microaggressions about being Asian that really hurt sometimes." (pg. 116) And as Jam learns, words can hurt as much as they can heal.

More to the Story is an excellent choice for readers who like diverse stories and family stories all rolled up in a well-crafted novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Salaam Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. This sounds like a fantastic book! It's neat how it puts a completely modern spin on a classic novel. Thanks so much for the review!

  2. Thank you for sharing this book with us for MMGM! I love 'Little Women', and this book sounds so intriguing.

  3. I enjoy retellings of great stories, and this one sounds fantastic. I like the diversity, the setting and the themes that are relevant to teens today! This book woulld be a great classroom book. THanks you for your wonderful review!

  4. I've not rad Little Women and maybe I should tackle that one first before delving into this modern day parallel. Looks alike a great one and thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  5. Interesting take on LW! I will have to check it out. I'd be interested in comparing it to the original.

  6. I read this recently and really loved it. Glad to see the word being spread. Thanks for the post.


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