84 pages 2 hours read

Hena Khan

Amina's Voice

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Eleven-year-old Pakistani-American Amina Khokar lives in Milwaukee with her mother, father, and brother, Mustafa. At school, a Korean girl named Soojin Kim is her best friend. Amina is distressed when Soojin befriends Emily, a girl who has historically joined in on racially-motivated taunts against Soojin and Amina. The situation is complicated when Amina, Emily, and Soojin—along with the class oddball, Bradley—are assigned to the same group for an Oregon Trail project in their social studies class.

Amina can sing and play piano beautifully, she’s only comfortable playing the piano in public. Her music teacher, knowing that Amina has stage fright, asks her to play piano accompaniment for an upcoming school talent show. Although Soojin has encouraged Amina to sign up for a singing solo, and Amina wishes to have her moment in the spotlight, Amina agrees to be an accompanist.

Soojin’s family is to be sworn in as American citizens very soon, and Soojin has decided to change her name to Susan. This upsets Amina, who worries about the cultural and personal loss that Soojin’s name change would inaugurate.

Thaya Jaan, Amina’s much more orthodox Muslim uncle, arrives for a visit. Mr. Khokar tries so hard to impress him that Amina fears that her father is ashamed of herself and her brother, who are more accustomed to American culture. Mr. Khokar has signed both Amina and Mustafa up for a Quran recital competition. Amina vows to get herself out of the competition, due to her stage fright. Thaya Jaan spends much of his time coaching Mustafa and Amina for the competition, which will take place at the Islamic Center.

Emily reveals that she has a crush on Justin, an athletic boy. Amina accidentally tells Bradley, and the secret circulates around school. Emily accuses Amina of revealing her secret, and Amina confesses, apologizing. Soojin yells at Amina. She leaves with a crying Emily. Soojin and Emily spend the next school day ignoring Amina. Amina later slips a lengthy apology note into Emily’s cubby.

Amina eavesdrops on a conversation between Thaya Jaan and her father. Thaya Jaan tells Mr. Khokar that he should restrict Amina’s involvement in music, as Islam forbids music, and Amina’s father agrees. Amina feels nervous and upset. She gives up on practicing her piano accompaniment piece for a week, thinking that she is sinning against God by loving music. Later, alone with her parents, Amina asks why God hates music. Mr. Khokar explains that he was trying to pacify his brother, and Mrs. Khokar suggests he clarify to Thaya Jaan.

Amina’s Islamic Center is vandalized while no one is inside. The mosque has been set aflame and is badly damaged. Arriving at the center, Amina is shaken when she sees the adults devastated by this attack. It deeply affects her family and larger Muslim community. Later, when people from the Center have congregated in the Khokar home, Mr. Khokar encourages Amina to play a song for everyone to lift their spirits. After Amina plays her selected Beethoven piece, she turns around to see everyone moved to tears, even Thaya Jaan.

The surrounding community rallies to aid Amina’s Muslim community. Mr. Heller, Emily’s father and the owner of a construction company, offers to complete the repairs to the center at cost. Soojin and Emily support Amina during this trying time. Soojin didn’t change her name at the ceremony.

Amina comes up with the idea to hold the Quran competition and carnival at Soojin’s church. Mustafa’s beautiful and musical recitation wins first prize in the contest. He pledges to use part of his award money to start a boys’ basketball club at the Center. Thaya Jaan, who has even become persuaded to enjoy American food, tells Mr. Khokar that he has raised two fine children, and Mr. Khokar swells with pride and joy.

The novel ends with Amina singing Sam Cook’s “A Change is Gonna Come” at the school talent show.