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Drawing Deena

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About The Book

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.


Chapter 1

I wince as the sharp metal tool scrapes against my molars and pricks my gums. Claudia doesn’t react and continues to chat about her new puppy while she cleans my teeth. Her eyes don’t reveal any clues about whether I have any cavities. I’ll find out about that when the dentist comes in later, and I’m trying not to worry about it. Luckily, the puppy stories are distracting.

“Almost done,” Claudia says. Her eyes are clearly smiling at me although the rest of her face is covered with a surgical mask. “Doing all right?”

“Ohagghh,” I gag. I’m not sure if she expects an answer from me while my mouth is wide open, or if I’m supposed to blink in some sort of code—like once for “yes,” twice for “no.”

I’m leaning way back in a dental chair, wearing oversized orange plastic sunglasses, and facing the TV that’s mounted on the ceiling. There’s a SpongeBob SquarePants episode playing, but I can barely hear it between Claudia’s talking and the whir of the hose sucking out spit that’s collecting in my mouth. I know this episode though, since I’ve seen them all before with my younger brother, Musa.

“All done.” Claudia pushes back the bright light that’s shining in my face and raises my headrest. “What flavor fluoride would you like?”

I survey the choices. Mint, strawberry, or bubble gum.

“Strawberry,” I say, and Claudia reaches for the tub.

“No wait. Mint,” I correct, and her hand wavers. “I mean strawberry.”

“Strawberry it is,” Claudia says, ripping off the cover of the tub and sticking her swab inside before I can change my mind again. Making quick decisions isn’t something I’m known for. I always worry that another choice might be the better one, even when I’m deciding about something I love, like drawing. I can’t help but doubt everything I’m doing, like, is this the perfect angle? Should I make this bigger or smaller? Is this what I should draw at all?

Thinking about this reminds me that I have a choice to make for art class, for our next project. I’m making a portrait, based on a photo of my cousin Parisa. I took a bunch of pictures of her already but haven’t picked which one I’m going to use.

Once my teeth are coated in a film of strawberry goop, Claudia raises my head and pats me on the shoulder.

“You did great,” she says, winking at me. I take a deep breath. At least this part is over.

I’ve been coming to Falls Church Dental Care for as long as I can remember. And everyone here remembers me too. I’m famous for having tantrums during my cleanings as a little kid, and for kicking the staff who tried to touch my mouth. Claudia was the one who eventually managed to coax me into letting her work on my teeth by turning it into a counting game, and she’s been the one I’ve been coming to ever since.

Dr. Singh walks into the room next, and my heart begins to race. Last time I was here, six months ago, she warned me that I had the “beginnings of a cavity” and said I needed to “do better” with my home cleaning routine. I brush twice a day, but only floss every few weeks. I honestly want to be better. But after a few days, I always fall back into my old flossless ways.

“Deena, good to see you,” Dr. Singh says. Her long black hair is twisted into a neat bun like always and her gold hoop earrings glint in the light.

“You too,” I lie. Seeing her makes my stomach hurt.

“I want to show you something,” Dr. Singh continues, all business as she pulls up my X-rays onto a screen that’s mounted on the wall. It creeps me out to see the roots of my teeth glowing white against the dark background, like the jaw of a skeleton.

“Did that cavity grow?” I ask, feeling instantly defeated by the invisible monsters.

“No, that’s fine.” Dr. Singh points to my last tooth on the bottom row. “But see here, you have a tiny crack, in your back molar.”

“A crack? Whoa. How?”

“Remember I told you how you clench your teeth at night last time you visited, and that you should consider wearing a mouthguard?”

I vaguely remember that. I thought it was strange but didn’t pay much attention to it.

“Well, it’s something I strongly recommend now. I’m going to call your mom in here and discuss it with both of you, okay?”

“Okay,” I say, but my stomach hurts more now.

A couple of minutes later, Mama walks into the room, holding her purse, my jacket, my backpack, and an oversized water bottle. She bites her bottom lip and perches on the tiny chair in the corner.

“Does Deena have cavities?” Mama asks, shooting me a disappointed look before even hearing the answer.

“No, no, it’s not that,” Dr. Singh says cheerfully. “She has a small fracture in her molar, the result of clenching her teeth while she sleeps.”

“I’m sorry, she what?” Mama’s eyebrows come together, making deep lines in her forehead.

“It’s an involuntary stress response, and quite common,” Dr. Singh explains. “I recommend a custom nightguard, which will protect her teeth from further damage, and prevent jaw pain.”

“Stress?” Mama shakes her head like she doesn’t believe it. “What does Deena have to be stressed about?”

Dr. Singh looks at me sympathetically.

“Middle school, right? I barely survived myself,” she says, patting my arm.

I offer a weak smile back.

“And what about the crack?” Mama asks.

“I’ll have to fill that at another date. But we can take a mold of her teeth today and order the nightguard, which will take two weeks to come in.”

As Dr. Singh and Mama continue to speak about how much the nightguard and the filling will cost, I see all-too-familiar calculations taking place in my mother’s head. There’s no extra money for something like this. I know that. I feel my jaw tighten and run my tongue over my back tooth, trying to feel for the crack.

If I wasn’t stressed before, I am now.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Drawing Deena

By Hena Khan

About the Book
Deena is a middle schooler who loves art and cherishes her family deeply. However, like many teens, she grapples with navigating her family relationships. The financial struggles and conflicts between her parents contribute to her anxiety, indecisiveness, and self-doubt. After she reaches a breaking point, Deena discovers the strength to assert herself. This pivotal moment becomes a turning point for both Deena and her parents as they recognize the significance of seeking help when you need it.

Discussion Questions

1. Deena’s mom is running a Pakistani clothing business from home. How does Deena help her mom with the boutique?

2. Our bodies show anxiety and stress in many ways. For example, Deena clenches her teeth in sleep, bites her nails, gets stomachaches, is not able to eat in the morning, and sometimes she even vomits. How do you feel when you are worried or stressed out about something? Do you have any physical symptoms? What are they?

3. In some cultures, it is considered disrespectful for children to disagree with their parents. When Deena’s mom cannot understand why her daughter is stressed, Deena wonders how some kids on TV talk back to their parents, saying, “You don’t understand me” or “I hate you.” (Chapter two) What are some better or more respectful ways to show disagreement or concern without yelling? How do you think Deena could have explained to her mom why she felt stressed?

4. Deena’s aunt, Saima, brings the family’s dishes back with chicken pulao (rice cooked with chicken) in one of them, along with some empty containers. It is a Pakistani tradition not to return someone’s dishes completely empty. Do you exchange food with family and friends? What are some of your cultural traditions around sharing food?

5. Why do you think Parisa uses photo filters and a glam app to retouch her pictures? What actions and traits make us feel good about ourselves besides how we look?

6. Parisa has her own social media account, which is filled with her selfies. She gets a lot of comments with fire emojis, heart eyes, and words like “beautiful” and “gorgeous.” (Chapter twenty-four) What happens to our minds when we get likes or when we do not get likes? How can social media help us and how can it hurt us? What are some healthy social media habits?

7. According to Deena’s mom and aunt, the internet is a place where “‘weirdos and creeps’” hang out, which is why they don’t want Parisa’s pictures on social media for boutique publicity. (Chapter ten) There are many reasons why social media could be a dangerous place for all of us. What do you think are the risks of social media, and what steps can we take to stay safe when we use it?

8. In some families, talking about feelings like sadness, worry, or anxiety, and going to therapy might be considered taboo. Deena’s mother was supportive of Deena getting help, but how did her dad initially react? What helped Deena share her feelings with her parents openly?

9. A local artist, Salma, runs workshops and mentors young people. She tells Deena that “‘we artists need to stick together’” and that “‘it’s important as artists to be in community.’” (Chapter forty) Have you ever had an experience where someone helped and guided you? How do you think having a mentor could benefit you?

10. When Deena mentions to Salma that she is inspired by Van Gogh’s art and tries to copy his style, Salma says, “‘It’s important to look to the past greats, to understand art history. But remember, other cultures outside of Europe have been producing art for just as long, even if it doesn’t get celebrated or recognized as much in the West. It’s good to understand that, and to decolonize your mind.’” (Chapter twenty-one) Deena did not understand what Salma was talking about. What do you think Salma was trying to say to Deena? What does it mean to decolonize our minds?

11. Parisa wishes she were as confident and talented as Deena, while Deena wishes she could be more like Parisa. We all have unique abilities and talents. When we are unable to recognize our skills, it can make us feel less sure about ourselves. What are some things you enjoy doing or feel you are good at? It can be anything, such as drawing, sports, helping others, etc.

12. How does Mr. Lin, the school counselor, describe anxiety? When does this emotion help us, and how can it become a problem and get in our way?

13. Deena was very stressed and conflicted about sharing her feelings and fears with her parents. When she learned effective ways to communicate and be assertive, how did she feel, and how did her mother react?

Extension Activities

1. While most Western wedding ceremonies last a day or two, weddings for Pakistani and Pakistani American families can often last several days. Typical Pakistani-style wedding traditions may involve multiple Dholkis (singing and dancing events), a Mehndi (henna party), a Shaadi (religious ceremony and reception), and a Walima (a reception hosted by the groom and his family). How is a Pakistani wedding different from weddings in your culture(s)? Consider breaking into small groups and sharing your favorite and most meaningful traditions you have seen or experienced from weddings you have attended.

2. Arrange a henna party! Order some organic henna cones online and watch a video to learn how to draw henna designs: After practicing on paper, draw a design on your hand or a friend’s hand with a henna cone. Or use paper and colored pencils to create designs that could be used with henna.

3. How did Ms. Freundlich help Deena during her panic attack? Learn more about what panic attacks are ( and what to do when you feel stressed ( Watch this short video to learn some deep breathing and grounding exercises to calm your mind and practice them:

4. When people have anxiety, sometimes they fall into “thinking traps.” Keeping a record of when we feel anxious could help find a pattern of how our bodies physically respond to stress. Decorate a journal cover and write how you feel in your body when you have strong emotions. You can also try drawing out what you feel.

5. Offering chai (hot tea) to guests is a common Pakistani custom. Due to its simplicity and inviting aroma, every guest is offered this drink. This is why whenever clients come to Deena’s house, her mom asks her to make chai for them. What is a popular drink in your family and culture(s)? Make your favorite drink and share recipes with your classmates.

Guide prepared by Noureen Qadir-Jafar, Youth Services Librarian at the Levittown Public Library in New York.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photo (c) Havar Espedal

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 6, 2024)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534459915
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Raves and Reviews

"Through candid first-person narration, Khan (Zara’s Rules for Living Your Best Life) examines adolescent anxiety and its various triggers and depicts adaptive coping mechanisms, including making the most of mentorship and support from one’s community. "

– Publishers Weekly, 1/22/24

"this book is written with an authentic middle school voice and blends culture, realistic worries, and mental health in a way upper elementary school and young middle school readers will appreciate."

– School Library Journal, 1/1/24

"A sensitive look at the effect of anxiety and the pressures of today (including social media) on young people’s mental health."

– Horn Book , Janaury/February 2024

*Khan skillfully weaves in cultural references and Urdu phrases alongside thoughtful questions about the arts, mental health, social media, parent-child relationships, and the pressures adolescent girls face about their appearances.

A nuanced and quietly powerful story.

– Kikrus, STARRED REVIEW, 12/1/23

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