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Book Review: Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

Publisher’s description

This hilarious and poignant #ownvoices tween debut about dealing with bullies, making friends, and the power of good books is a great next read for fans of Merci Suárez Changes Gears and John David Anderson.

Ahmed Aziz is having an epic year—epically bad.

After his dad gets sick, the family moves from Hawaii to Minnesota for his dad’s treatment. Even though his dad grew up there, Ahmed can’t imagine a worse place to live. He’s one of the only brown kids in his school. And as a proud slacker, Ahmed doesn’t want to deal with expectations from his new teachers.

Ahmed surprises himself by actually reading the assigned books for his English class: HolesBridge to Terabithia,and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Shockingly, he doesn’t hate them. Ahmed also starts learning about his uncle, who died before Ahmed was born. Getting bits and pieces of his family’s history might be the one upside of the move, as his dad’s health hangs in the balance and the school bully refuses to leave him alone. Will Ahmed ever warm to Minnesota?

Amanda’s thoughts

12-year-old sixth grader Ahmed Aziz (who is Indian American, but he says he just prefers to say “American” as he’s never even been to India) isn’t exactly excited to move from Hawaii to his dad’s hometown in Minnesota. But it’s one of the only places his dad can get an experimental treatment for his hepatitis, so off they go! It’s not an easy time for Ahmed, whose dad undergoes surgery and then spends a long and scary time recovering in the ICU. That alone would be enough. But he’s also in a new place, a new school.

Listen, sixth grade is a terrible time. I would like to erase the memory of having had to raise my own child through 6th and 7th grades. Bad times. Bad. And Ahmed is definitely not thrilled to be at a new school at this point in his life, especially once he becomes the target of his neighbor, Jack’s, bullying. Jack is horrible to Ahmed, but thankfully he has other new friends he’s made in his language arts class who stick up for him and help him feel less alone. Together, they read some modern classics of children’s lit and explore the common feelings and experiences that help make Ahmed feel less different, less alone. Ahmed also finally begins to learn more about his uncle, who died as a child from the same disease Ahmed’s father has now. Though things are often quite rough, all of these new connections help Ahmed forge ahead in middle school.

Ahmed’s story about courage, identity, and trying on personalities shows that while it may be okay to fake it till you make it, the real best thing is getting to just be who you are. He learns that he gets to define himself, that he gets to choose who he is. And when he finally has the perfect moment to exact his revenge on bully Jack, he learns that that self he wants to be is not someone who tears others down. A solid read full of heart, friendship, and growth.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063024892
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/22/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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