Title: In the Key of Nira Ghani
Author: Natasha Deen
Narrator: Kamali Minter
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Publishing Date: 2019
Genre/Format Item : Audiobook
Amy Mathers Award Winner
MYRCA Award Nominee
R. Ross Arnett Award Nominee
American Library Association YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
Red Maple Honour Book
Chapters-Indigo Most Anticipated Teen Books
Junior Library Guild Selection
Reading Level/Interest Level:
Grade Level 9-12 (NoveList)
Plot Summary: Nira Ghani lives under the constant strain of being the perfect daughter. She lives with her Guyanese parents and grandmother. Music is what gives Nira joy and her release from the pressures of her world. Nira’s world consists of going to school, hanging out with her best friend Emily, doing homework, and the dreaded weekly visits with her cousin Farah and her aunt and uncle. Then one day, Noah, one of the coolest kids in school, suddenly wants to be her friend. This also sets into motion the attention of McKenzie, a snobby girl who always seems to offend Nira, and her cousin Farah, who usually doesn’t give her the time of day. As Nira struggles to navigate this new social dynamic, she learns about Jazz Band tryouts and decides that she wants to be in Jazz Band more than anything else. Nira must face the disapproval of her parents and find a way to convince them to allow her to try out for the band. Nira ends up getting a job in order to pay for a more expensive instrument. As she moves closer to her dream of being in the band, her social status and friendships seem to be crumbling all around her. Nira must find a way to go after what she most desires and learn how to be a good friend and family member. Nira finds love along the way and learns how to trust herself and fight for what she truly wants.
Author Background: Natasha Green was born in Canada but her family moved to Guyana when she was three weeks old. Her family stayed in Guyana until Natasha was five years old and then they returned to Canada. Deen faced racism in Canada and felt unseen when she could not find characters that mirrored her in the books that she read. Deen has written a variety of books for kids, teens, and adults (Deen, n.d.) and her website is titled: “Change One Story at a Time” (https://natashadeen.com/). She currently lives in Edmonton, Canada.
Critical Evaluation: This is an excellent audiobook. The narrator, Kamali Minter, has a very soothing voice that is pleasant to listen to. Minter is able to give each character a unique voice and it is very clear which character is speaking. The background music is a smooth jazz tune and very appropriate for the subject matter of the book. The book was very easy to follow and the characters were well-developed. The author was able to portray two Guyanese families in very different financial circumstances. It later becomes apparent that these two families have very different emotional ties and support systems. I think that this reflects a desire by the author to show that immigrant families are not one and the same and that even families from the same bloodline may experience life in a new country in very different ways. Nira’s personal growth was evident throughout the book. I think that showing the side of Nira that was a little self-centered and close-minded made her a more relatable character. Deen was able to develop the supporting characters as well, as readers are given insight into Noah and McKenzie’s not so perfect lives. I think that the subject matter is relevant to teens and I think that many teens will find themselves relating and sympathizing with the characters and the challenges that they must overcome.
Creative Use for a Library Program: This audiobook or print version could be used in a library program that highlights teen musicians. During the week of Mardi Gras (as celebrated in New Orleans), the library could celebrate music and books with musicians as main characters. The library could ask the local high school band if they would be willing to give a musical presentation in the library community room. Teen would be invited to hear jazz music and see books on display that have musicians as main characters, including this book. The library could give away Mardi Gras beads and have a few themed snacks out. The teens can chat with the musicians or just browse through the books and listen to music.
Speedround/Book Trailer: Have you ever wanted something so much that you would go to any lengths to get it? Nira Ghani desperately wants to join the Jazz Band and must prove to her parents that she deserves this. She finds herself facing new territory when her best friend is suddenly wrapped up in the popular girl and her cousin is hanging all over the one boy that has been giving Nira attention. When all seems lost, Nira must find the courage to go after her dreams and the self-awareness to see the people around her for what they are: her friends and not her enemies.
Potential Challenge Issues/Defense Preparations: The potential challenges I see for this book could be the issue of Emily and Mac’s lesbian relationship. A parent may not approve of a homosexual relationship in a teen book. I would argue that a library celebrates all people, including all sexual orientations or gender identities. A parent might also object to the mention of Nira’s uncle’s infidelity or to Noah’s dad’s alcoholism. I would tell a parent that these are situations that teens may and do face and it is important for teens to be able to recognize themselves in books. It is also important to show how the characters support each other throughout these life challenges.
Reason for Inclusion: I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. The narrator’s voice was lovely and the story kept my attention. I think that it is important to include diverse authors and subject matter, especially in a teen collection. I have not read many books by Guyanese authors and I enjoyed hearing Nira’s perspective on life. I would hope that many teens would also feel engaged in this audiobook or print version. I loved that she stood up for what she believed in and that, even in the face of adversity, Nira found a way to be true to herself.
Bibliovideo. (2021, May 4). Natasha Deen Interview [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNdecoKVPGY
Deen, N. (n.d.). About . https://natashadeen.com/about/