Book Review: Drawing Deena by Hena Khan
From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes a tenderhearted middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American artist determined to manage her anxiety and forge her own creative path.
Deena’s never given a name to the familiar knot in her stomach that appears when her parents argue about money, when it’s time to go to school, or when she struggles to find the right words. She manages to make it through each day with the help of her friends and the art she loves to make.
While her parents’ money troubles cause more and more stress, Deena wonders if she can use her artistic talents to ease their burden. She creates a logo and social media account to promote her mom’s home-based business selling clothes from Pakistan to the local community. With her cousin and friends modeling the outfits and lending their social media know-how, business picks up.
But the success and attention make Deena’s cousin and best friend, Parisa, start to act funny. Suddenly Deena’s latest creative outlet becomes another thing that makes her feel nauseated and unsure of herself. After Deena reaches a breaking point, both she and her mother learn the importance of asking for help and that, with the right support, Deena can create something truly beautiful.
I just love Hena Khan. I love the quiet strength and introspection her characters always have.
7th grade Deena is an artist and a worrier. We learn this right off the bat, when Deena needs a night guard for tooth grinding, a common involuntary stress response. Her mother asks the question so many adults unthinkingly (and dismissively) ask—what does she, a child, possibly have to be stressed about? Well, it turns out a lot. Deena worries a lot about money, especially whenever she hears her parents arguing about it. She has school and homework. And she is expected to step in to help her mom, who designs, sells, customizes, and alters clothes from their small home boutique, bringing chai to the visitors or doing other small tasks around the store. Deena has some really good ideas for the store, like telling her mom to run it more like a proper store with fixed prices and marketing. She’s also good at sketching out possible alterations for outfits.
All Deena really wants in life is the chance to do more art. She’s a talented artist, but her mother would rather she spend her time on other interests. She wants her to focus on other subjects, things that will lead to financial stability and self sufficiency. Her parents feel that the art she gets to do in her school’s art class is plenty. When a real artist, Salma, comes to their boutique for an outfit for the opening of her show at a gallery, Deena is in awe. She attends the opening of her show; she sees the support she has and is inspired by her. Salma speaks of art as hope and sanctuary, a place to reclaim narratives and have a voice. And this is important for Deena, who has been keeping so much to herself.
Deena is holding in a lot of anxiety. It’s enough to make her physically ill. She sometimes throws up from nerves, often feels she can’t eat, and has what she later learns are panic attacks. Eventually, when the anxiety is impossible for those around her to ignore, she begins to work with the school counseling staff to learn more about her anxiety and how to cope with it. Her mom feels awful that she didn’t know Deena was having such awful anxiety. Her dad seems to kind of want her to just get over it and be happy. He wants to keep things private. But Deena insists there’s no shame in getting help. It’s so satisfying to see her take what she’s been told as other adults work to support her and stand up for herself.
Deena’s authentic voice will immediately draw in readers who will be glad to see her learn to be more open with her family, find a mentor for her art, and get the help she needs to deal with her anxiety. An excellent read.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 02/06/2024
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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