In the Key of Nira Ghani

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I was lucky enough to win an e-ARC in a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thanks so much for the early look at this title!
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Nira is the only child of Guyanese immigrants in Canada. Her grandmother lives with her family, and her perfect cousin Farah and Farah's parents live nearby. Like many immigrants, both sets of parents are deeply invested in their children's education and success. It's not easy being either kid, but of course both think the other has it better. 

Nira's particular challenge is that rather than wanting to be a doctor, like her parents pressure her to be, she wants to play trumpet. Trumpet! Farah's dad is more successful than Nira's, and Farah goes to private school and has a chorus of "Farahbots" following her around, where Nira has just one friend, Emily. As the story begins, Nira is worried that she's losing even Emily. 

Good and bad things happen, and a very bad thing, but you can handle it because you're pulling for Nira, and eventually for Farah, too, and for the girls' tea-pushing grandmother. 

The girls are high school juniors, but this book is suitable for middle grades readers.
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I received an Advanced Copy via Netgalley in exchange for an objective review.

I was born in Guyana, so I was intrigued to read a YA title featuring a Guyanese protaganist named Nira. She’s an opinionated, self-centered high school student in Canada frustrated with her immigrant parents strict academic rules. Study. Study. Study. Nothing else!  But Nira loves the trumpet. And she’s a talented, untrained trumpet player to boot! 

The struggle with her immigrant parents and fitting in at school is an experience well-described by the author. I didn’t mind the scattered transitions as I felt this was reflective of the chaos of being a teenager. Nira’s relationships with her friend Emily and her cousin Farah, as well as her parents, changes throughout the novel, also reflecting the ups and downs of a teenager. Her one respite is her relationship with her grandmother, who she has to share with Farah. When Nira finds out Farah’s family secret, she learns why her grandmother treats Farah the way she does. 

Every little thing is heightened in Nira’s teenage mind, which makes you want to scold her yourself as a reader. Many times, she acts like a “ninny” as Farah her cousin calls her. I found myself disliking her choice of words in moments, but rooting for her to change for the better. In the end, it takes a tragedy for her to see the light while her other relationships are wrapped up and tied up in a neat bow. Overall, I was gently touched by Nira and her sensitive nature, even if she did act like a “ninny” at times! 

I appreciate the  Guyanese cultural elements being sprinkled throughout the story without overtaking the focus on Nira’s character arc, although a bit more culture would have given me more connection to Guyana beyond the fact that the country is corrupt and poor, as described by Nira and her family. 

There is a lot of exposition in the writing, which is a writing device that always needs to be balanced by authors. From what I read about the author, this is a personal story made into a YA novel. And she has other books! I’ll be rooting for her and looking forward to her future novels and seeing her writing evolve. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for providing the ARC to review!
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Here's the thing: I feel like maybe I wasn't in the right mood for this book? It's not that I didn't enjoy it (I definitely did!) but I did have a hard time focusing on it for prolonged periods of time, much like my experience with a few Sarah Dessen and John Green books in the past. I liked it well enough, but it didn't fully grip me. It had a very slow start that progressed and quickened as it went. 

There is a big chance that my review is going to be a bit all over the place.

Before I get started: despite my mixed reviews, and my constant stopping and starting, I never felt compelled to completely ditch the book. I always knew I was going to finish it, because I wanted to--so, that definitely ties into my thought process re: my mood. My mind was just not fully in it to win it, I guess. And, as always, my thoughts are my own and taste is subjective.

Instead of focusing on negatives, we're going to focus on the sheer brilliance of the other parts of this book. I find that a lot of my issues with it really were mood oriented and perhaps even just me growing out of YA books almost entirely these last two or so years. Because, when I look back on the story as a whole, there were so many qualities that I genuinely loved about it.

In the Key of Nira Ghani is, first and foremost, a hopeful sign of where YA will go in the years to come--finally, there are more and more diverse works of fiction coming out that have been needed for so long. It is a contemporary, coming of age story that features more than your standard release. It centers around a Guyanese character who is growing up in a way that is very true to life.

In the course of a book, we watch her as she grows and each chapter carries on some very important messages about one's self, judgment and the fact that people aren't always what they seem. In this moment of growth for our main character, we feel the weight of important messages told in a way that is poignant. We learn about ourselves, just as we learn about the characters in this book.

I liked that it took some very serious topics and balanced in some funny interactions, too, creating a sort of balance that is necessary in story telling.

While Natasha Deen's characters and plotlines at times fall into tropes that are a bit overused in YA, she doesn't use the tropes in the way that makes them generic. Instead, Deen creates characters that are developed beautifully. I think that the cast of characters is what makes up for parts of the novel I wasn't wholly keen on, because they were truly present and I loved it.

(And the dynamics! I loved.)

This isn't to say that other YA releases don't fully develop their characters, or relationships, it is just that they rarely do so in the ways that Deen has. She's take great care in doing so and crafted the vast majority of her characters in a way that feels real. You don't feel like they are merely characters.

At its core, it is a pure and simple coming of age novel that will truly stand its own ground amongst its contemporaries. Further, In the Key of Nira Ghani is beautiful promise of what is to come for its author. I can't wait to see where she goes, and I truly believe she is amongst the authors that will be around for years to come. I'm definitely going to look into some of her prior, and future, releases.

Overall, I thought that In the Key of Nira Ghani was pretty solid and intriguing. It's definitely a book that I may reread in the future to see if I missed something, to see if my original rating was merely a mood I was in. Natasha Deen is someone you'll want to be looking out for in the years to come!

This is the kind of book that needs to be kept in classrooms and school libraries.
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Thank you to Running Press Kids (Perseus Books, Running Press) and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review.

A slow start to a great ending all things considered. There is an honest poignancy to the story of a Guyanese immigrant teen trying to break preconceived notions about her through music. The disparity between Nira and the other kids at school - both socially and culturally - is an extremely relatable concept that rings true for many.

It took a while to really get into the story and I think it was because of my reaction to certain, unlikable characters in the book. The book bellows the sentiment, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," and learning to understand someone by "walking a mile in their shoes." But there were a couple instances were Nira took the blame and understand the other's view while others not understanding where she's coming from and seeing that her reactions to certain events were normal, justified human reactions. Don't expect someone to suddenly like you if every time before that their interactions with you involve racists comments whether you meant them or not.

Nira's Grandma is the best. A wise, calm sage in the midst of chaos. She's also funny. I don't know if tea really does solve everything, but it's something I can get behind.

I really liked learning about Guyanese culture and seeing its varying effects on Nira and her family. They all want to be more than what there were/are than what they left behind. It made the conflict gripping. You end up cheering for everyone in the process to do better and be better. I loved how this story is a reflection the author's own experiences and those of her parents. You could really feel the raw, realness of what was going on. Everything seemed more upfront from start to finish.

There's a lot of struggles and feelings for each dynamic character (and I would say most of them were) to undergo dramatic changes in how they view the world and each other. I think there's something positive in this story that every reader can take away from reading it.
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Rating: 3.25 🌟

ARC Review: receiver from Netgalley for an honest review

TW: ableist slurs, death, cheating

I spent way too long staring at the screen trying to figure out what to say about this book. What I will say with certainty though is that this book should be read by #ownvoice readers from immigrant families, kids who will understand the struggle of moving from one country to another for a better life, understand the struggles of trying to fit in whole still trying to maintain your culture.

So my disclaimer is this: I don't know what it's like to move to a whole new country, I don't know what it's like being poor or close to it, I don't know what it's like being the only POC in a white-only place, so these things I will not touch on because it is not my place to discuss them. What I will discuss are aspects of the book that I feel I can relate to, however. 

Okay, I have to admit that I did enjoy this book, that it was nice to read it and I got it done in a day (hours if you don't count the breaks I took). It's not a badly written book at all and like I said before, I did enjoy it. However, it does have a few issues.

1. The description of Emily's weight. It's not baaad, it's not even mean, but I don't know. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive about it, as a fat person, but idk. It just didn't sit in a comfortable way. Like I feel like there may have been a better way to describe her fatness. I mean, she likes to eat, sure, but I don't know. I just feel like there could've been a better way to say she's fat without the “she stuffs her face” feel of things. 

2. The handling of Mckenzie is probably one of my least favourite things. This girl is awful to Nira from the start of the book. She says racist and ignorant things all the time and makes Nira feel awful about herself. It's natural for Nira to hate this girl, to not want or be friends with her. But then Mckenzie starts hanging out with them and then Nira's best friend Emily (who is white) comes at Nira like “she's not as bad as you think, just give her a chance” and mm, that feels condescend-y to me. Emily is white and Mckenzie and white, so when Mckenzi says ignorant and racist things, obviously Emily won't find it as problematic as Nira and obviously it'll be easier for her to forgive but mm. Without spoiling more than I might have, I don't really like how things went. Like I knew, I KNEW, that Mckenzie wasn't going to be the bad guy forever and there was going to be some “I'm only mean to you because of (meh excuse)” and it did happen and I wasn't unhappy but I wish that it had gone a different way.

3. Grandma. I'm not even going to go into it because SPOILER but I will say that I knew it, that I knew it would end the way it did and that hurts me. It was unnecessary, things didn't have to go the way the did, like things could've been fixed a different way, Nira could've worked her life out a different way. Again, I just felt that the last chapter was unnecessary!

But despite those thing, I liked this book actually. And also there are queer characters in the book and I love that Nira's parents and Grandmother are so chilled when it comes to relationships, like the “Is it a boy?...... A girl?” question every time they were curios about Nira having relationship issues was cool. I'm glad that we were able to see that the may be strict and almost hellish about school and Nira's academic future, but her sexuality isn't an issue.

Overall, a good read and I hope that young Guyanese Canadian kids will find this book and relate to its content.
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In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natahsa Deen, 304 pages.  Running Press Teens, April 2019.  $18.

Language: PG-13 (22 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: G; Violence: G



Nira is barely making it through high school, with only Emily as her friend and Georgia, her pocket trumpet, as solace.  But things are changing – Noah, the local BMOC, and McKenzie, Nira’s chief tormentor, are horning in on the duo for some reason.  Even Farrah, her rich, stuck-up cousin, seems to be hanging around more. Between rocky friendships and the weight of her family’s expectations, Nira turns more to her music, but there is a chance for disaster.

I like Nira quite a lot. Nira’s story is similar to many other previous stories about kids whose parents don’t want to leave any room for them to grow up and away and friendships that can – sometimes in good ways and sometimes away from each other. Who I don’t like is the jazz band teacher at her school – he is callous man who probably drove more kids away from performing than her did encouraging them to perform.  An easy read to enjoy.

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS
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This is a little more than just an average coming of age high school story. Its a struggle that goes deeper than just parents and child but into the struggle of culture. Nira's family wants to her be a doctor, they see that as the only type of success but Nira wants to be a musician that success is bigger than just becoming a doctor. 

I liked Nira as a character, shes so wrapped up in her own struggles that she doesn't see or understand her friends struggles. I never found Nira to be too self center to see Mac, Emily, Noah and her cousin Farah's issues and she does open up and realize her own mistakes. 

The best parts though are when Nira interacts with her family. I wished there had been more about the Guyanese culture but there was one particular section about Nira's fathers reaction to her buying clothes from a consignment story that really stood out to me. Its something so simple, how buying vintage or second hand is not just normal but popular can bring back such horrible feelings for Nira's father. Those are the best parts that really drive the story.

The ending was a bit off to me. I saw it coming, although it didn't play out like I thought but I wish that it had been different. I felt like it brought the family together in a way that felt unnatural and forced to me. I wanted to see Nira and her father come together on her desire to play music in a more fluid way. That was really what dragged down my enjoyment of the book from what it could have been. 

Overall I think it would be a good read for younger teens.
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I was given an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

I went into this book thinking it was going to be a run of the mill book about high schooler's with the main character being from Guyana. But this book isn't really a HS drama, it's more of a introspective of Nira's family and her looking back at her previously unnoticed flaws. She wants to join the jazz band at school, but is surprised when Mackenzie (a girl at her school who Nira sees as vapid and dumb) plays the Saxophone, and plays it well. This is juxtaposed with her cousin Farah who is better, richer, and prettier etc. than her in every way, who is initially kinda of a bitch she later comes into her own and shows that she has her own problems and Nira sees that people are more than there appearance.

The book has a lot of humor, especially between Nira and her grandmother as well as her side comments made about just about everybody. I found this to be the best part(s) and carried me through the book. While yes, there is somewhat of a romance (I say somewhat because Noah is a barely there character who is just there because I don't know it's a YA?) but the main story is on Nira and the people around her, and her growing interest in jazz band.

I liked learning about Nira's home life, her life in Guyana and having to relocate to Canada and what that means to her as a person. She wants to be Canadian like everyone else (by buying expensive clothes) but she also wants to keep her culture, a balance that she finds by joining the jazz band. I feel the book frames this well, and the relationships throughout make the somewhat twist towards the end very complete and natural.

It's a hidden gem that I think could be a major hit for 2019
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I found this to be enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. Perhaps I’ve just read too many YA books at this point, but it seemed very reminiscent of others I have read.
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(Review originally posted on GoodReads.)

3.5 stars, rounded up. I didn't love this book, but I enjoyed it, and I think rounding up to 4 stars is a fair assessment.  Cute, and nice to see an #OwnVoices book, but I feel like I’m getting too old to really enjoy YA slice-of-life books like these. 

+ Nira is pretty well fleshed out, as is her cousin Farah and the rest of Nira's family, but I feel like I don't know Nira's social circle (Emily, Mac, and Noah) all that well. I liked that Nira's conflict was primarily focused on her family and her desire to forge her own path. It's also nice that she's judgemental and rude; it made her feel more realistic. Farah is your stereotypical "seems like a popular jerk but really has a heart of gold"/"her perfect life isn't actual perfect" tropes, but them being tropes didn't particularly bother me since they was well-developed. 

+ Noah, Nira's love interest, is bland but inoffensive. I feel like that's pretty much the best one can ask for when it comes to male LIs in YA stories. He's pretty much just there to be nice and supportive to Nira. At least the romance is kept to a minimum and isn't the focus of the story. And no love triangle! That was a plus.

+ Emily and Mac got the short end of the stick in terms of development. I don't really feel like I know who they are as characters. Mac comes across a being a total jerkass for the first 1/2 of the book and I didn't really buy the later explanation for all that. Might have worked better if it had been explored further, especially in the first half of the book.

+ The plot is ... okay. This is where the book kind of falters for me, personally. It's nothing terrible, but it's not particularly groundbreaking anyway. Which is fine, and there's nothing wrong with straightforward, slice-of-life stories (especially since onces featuring non-white characters are family uncommon), but it didn't really grab me or move me in any significant way. To be fair, there's quite a large age gap between myself and the characters; I'm certainly not the target audience.

+ The writing is fine. Nothing spectacular, but that's fine. All of the characters had distinctive voices and the banter between Nira and her grandmother was nice and felt real.
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Honestly, I didn't read this book, but I want to explain why. I knew 2 pages in this wasn't a book for me. I know we all bring the context of our lives to every book we read. In the context of my life, I can't stand certain things, like cow eyeballs. So squeamish! I just can't read it. So, unfortunately I didn't continue.
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At the beginning of this book I couldn't really stand Nira. I thought she grew within the story and had to deal with a lot because of her parents expectations and her race. 
A great addition to middle grade fiction.
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This book is a hidden gem! It is the story of the brown-skinned immigrant child trying to fit in but still please the parents. Nira is Indian, from Guyana, living in Canada. She loves jazz music but her parents want her to be a doctor. She also feels pressure fr9m her rich cousins and from being the only brown child in school.  She is a wonderful protagonist!
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It would be nice if the PDF was not a bunch of blank pages. I still love the concept though. These type of stories are important.
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A gorgeously-written book that delivers a powerful message. With a multilayered protagonist, lyrical writing, and a captivating plot; this book will enthrall you. This novel deals with an important issue and handles the nuances of marginalized culture. I highly recommend!
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Such a powerful novel with such a strong message. This book reminded me a lot of The Hate You Give for the theme of standing up for what you believe is right and fighting for your dreams. Nira's tenacity and bravery is very inspiring and motivating to the young reader in teaching them to pick their battles and fight until the very end. The world is what you make it.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. This will be definitely considered for our YFiction collection at the library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
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