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  • Book Title: In the Key of Nira Ghani
  • Author: Natasha Deen
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Publisher: RP Teens/Hachette Book Group
  • Pages: 298

Like so many children of immigrant parents, Nira Ghani faces a tough choice: following her heart and pursuing a career in music or making her Guyanese parents happy and becoming a doctor. Writer Natasha Deen shares her Guyanese-Canadian nationality with the protagonist of her latest novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani. And while reading the book, one can’t help but wonder, owing to wonderfully authentic prose, how much else the two have in common.

Nira’s battle against her parents begins with a single flyer advertising auditions for her school’s jazz band. She desperately wants to join as a trumpet player, but her aspiration doesn’t sit well with her traditional mom and dad. At first, this tug-of-war between teenager and parent feels familiar, but one of Deen’s gifts as a writer is weaving in unexpected developments. As Nira struggles to figure out who she truly wants to be, and how her parents factor into that, she discovers deeply hidden secrets about the people around her, starting with Noah, the most popular boy in school. He frequently goes on week-long getaways with his dad, returning with grand stories about their adventures. Nira envies these escapades and Noah’s close bond with his father, until a chance encounter reveals the trips are a way for his dad to make up for his drinking problem and all the times he’s disappointed his son.

Another of Deen’s gifts is her ability to persuade readers to empathize with even the most villainous of her characters. By the end of the book, I felt I understood Nira’s mean-girl friend, McKenzie, despite her often coming across as ignorant and unlikable. I sympathized with Nira’s father, a stubborn, prideful man, who has a hard time thinking of other people’s feelings. I found myself rooting for Farah, Nira’s obnoxious cousin, who has everything she could ever want handed to her. And most importantly, I appreciated Nira’s flawed judgments and insatiable desire to fit in. These dynamic characters and Deen’s honest writing offer a captivating window into the challenges of being an immigrant and a teenager.

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Internment by Samira Ahmed (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 387 pages) Seventeen-year-old Layla Amin’s normal life in California abruptly comes to a halt when a new Islamophobic president is elected in Samira Ahmed’s second novel. What follows is a swift and shocking unravelling of democracy that lands Layla and her family on a Muslim registry, and eventually, a concentration camp. Already optioned for a movie, Interment is a work of contemporary realism that paints an alarmingly accurate picture of government oppression brought on by racism and Islamophobia. It is intimate, authentic and a must-read.

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We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 393 pages) Drawing inspiration from real Second World War Soviet female fighter pilots known as Night Witches, Barlett’s debut fantasy novel is a riveting tale of feminism, friendship and a fight for survival. Revna Roshena is caught using illegal magic to escape a bomb in her hometown, while Linné Zolonov, the daughter of a general, is discovered dressing as a boy to join the war. In exchange for a pardon, both girls find themselves part of an experimental women’s flight regiment where they use forbidden magic to end the war. Told from alternating third-person perspectives with underlying themes of religion, hypocrisy and betrayal, We Rule the Night is a bold story with an ending that hints hopefully at a sequel.

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