Author Natasha Deen, whose Guyanese family moved to Canada when she was a young girl, mines her own immigration experience for her newest YA novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani.
Fitting in as a teen is anxiety provoking, but it’s even more difficult when you’re an immigrant and one of only two people of color in your whole school. Nira’s parents want the best for her, and the family recently fled Guyana with just their belongings in order to make a better life in Canada. They want her to become a doctor and to live a comfortable life. Since Nira is a dutiful daughter, she studies faithfully, but she has a love in her life that she hides from them—jazz trumpet.
For Nira, playing her instrument provides a welcome escape from the mean girl at school who makes ignorant, racist comments and asks rude questions about Nira’s identity. Nira’s best friend, Emily, also helps until she becomes good friends with the mean girl. To further complicate things in her life, Nira is forced to spend time with a cousin whom she can’t stand.
Guyanese cultural references add to the richness of this tale. A possible romance is on the horizon for Nina, but familial conflicts abound, with Nira’s wise grandmother often smoothing out rough patches until something happens that even she can’t fix.
This layered story ripples with jazz-like rhythms, and Deen gracefully shows what it’s like to be an outsider and how a true conviction of spirit is sometimes all the improvising one needs.