*We welcome Anne (A.B.) Westrick, author of the older-middle grade novel Brotherhood, to the MG Book Village Team! You can learn more about her at https://abwestrick.com/
Anne: Thank you, Maleeha, for stopping by MG Book Village to share a bit about your debut novel, Barakah Beats, which just came out in October from Scholastic. Could you start by giving us a super brief summary of the story?
Maleeha: Hi Anne! Thank you so much for having me. Barakah Beats is about a 12-year-old Muslim girl named Nimra Sharif and in the beginning of the book, she transfers to public school for the first time after spending her entire life in Islamic school. Nimra faces a number of challenges when she starts the 7th grade, namely the fact that her best friend starts to ignore her around the other kids and Nimra suspects it has something to do with her hijab. To get her friend back and fit in at her new school, Nimra joins her school’s popular 8th grade boy band and grapples with questions about faith, family, and friendships.
Anne: I was fascinated to learn that in Islam, music is hotly contested. I enjoyed reading your Author’s Note about the wide variety in Muslims’ preferences and allowances related to music and musical instruments, and in light of that, your decision to feature a Muslim boy band seems courageous. Why did you decide to make the band central to the plot?
Maleeha: Because of the way that I was raised, I faced a similar challenge that Nimra is facing in the book. Middle school was when my boy band obsession was at its peak, but I was never allowed to go to concerts or dance at events, even though my other Muslims friends’ parents did allow their kids to do both things. Because music is such a huge topic of discourse in the Muslim community, I wanted to show that there are many sides to it since we typically only see one side in mainstream media. Plus, what middle school kid doesn’t want to be asked to join a boy band and look cool to their peers? I thought the idea was fun!
Anne: Your protagonist Nimra experiences a number of humiliating moments in her new school. For example, because she wears a hijab, others assume she can’t speak English, can’t do sports, and hasn’t learned American history. To what extent did these moments come from your own experience, or from the experiences of others in your family?
Maleeha: Quite a few, sadly. In the past, I’ve gotten some strange questions and assumptions from people because I started wearing hijab at a young age. The question that bugged me the most and still rings in my head to this day is when I walked into school wearing hijab for the first time and someone went, “WHOA! What happened?” Like…I’d done something bizarre by putting it on in the first place.
Anne: The dynamic between Nimra’s parents and grandparents highlights generational tensions in her family. Why was it important for you to include the many scenes in which she observes her parents’ struggles with their parents?
Maleeha: I guess to show that we all have disagreements with our parents regardless of what generation we grew up in, and those of us that go on to have families of our own always have in mind the ways we want to raise our kids differently to make up for the things that we feel like we lost out on. Nimra is who she is because of the way her parents raised her. She has more emotional support and fewer insecurities about herself than her parents did growing up as first-generation immigrants.
Anne: I loved the sprinkling of Arabic through the story, such as, for example, “making wudu” (cleansing before prayer) and “Barakah” (divine blessing). Did you ever consider adding a glossary either to the book or your website? (I’m kind of a word-nerd, and would’ve poured over a glossary, if you’d given me one!)
Maleeha: I didn’t consider it because I briefly explain what the words mean within the text. Plus, they’re easy to Google! Readers will find far more information that way than if I provided a glossary.
Anne: What do you hope readers will take away from Barakah Beats?
Maleeha: I want one of the big takeaways from Barakah Beats – for young readers especially – to be that one’s faith can be uplifting and can motivate people to live their best, authentic lives while also respecting other people’s opinions and boundaries. Faith doesn’t always diminish down generations. Sometimes, it becomes stronger. Just because someone chooses to live a different way doesn’t mean they’re any less happy with the lives that they are leading.
Anne: Finally, Maleeha, where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?
Maleeha: Readers can follow me on Twitter or Instagram. My handle is the same for both: @malsidink. They can also visit my website at https://maleehasiddiqui.com/
Anne: Thank you for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such an engaging story!
Maleeha: Thank you so much for asking such thoughtful questions. I had so much fun with these!
Maleeha Siddiqui is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell unapologetically Muslim stories for all ages. By day, Maleeha works as a regulatory affairs professional in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. When she’s not working, reading, or writing, she likes to try new food and snuggle cats. Barakah Beats (Scholastic 2021) is her debut novel.