Rummanah Aasi
 I've read other books by Abdel-Fattah, which centered on Muslim teens who are trying to come to terms with their dual cultural identity. For her middle grade book, however, the author leaves her familiar subject and takes a look at the lives of tweens who are living in the middle of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The book, while clearly brushed in tragic strokes, is also very funny and ultimately uplifting, and celebrates the strength and hope that we can still gain through family, even in the harshest circumstances.

Description (from book's panel): Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the checkpoints, the curfews, and Hayaat's best friend Samy, who is always a troublemaker. But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey is only a few kilometers long, it may take a lifetime to complete.

Review: Physically and emotionally scarred from a tragic event, Hayaat lives behind the Israeli-built Separation Wall in the West Bank City of Bethlehem. When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Hayaat decides to make her way to Jerusalem to fill an empty hummus jar with soil from the land of her grandmother's ancestral home in hopes that it will mend her grandmother's heart. Though Jerusalem is only a short distance away from Hayaat's home, curfews, checkpoints, and an identity card present obstacles that might not allow her and her soccer-loving and best friend Samy to complete their journey.
  I really enjoyed this book and I think it is an important addition to a very small body of existing books that feature the Middle East, particularly telling the Palestinian story for young people. Abdel-Fattah does a great job in bringing the book's intensely realistic story to life. It almost felt as if I was living in Hayyat's house. Though the tone of the story may sound deep and serious, the book is full of  humor, adventure, and family love, but it doesn't try to hide or shy away from the heartbreaking, bitter reality of life under Occupation.
 I can tell when I read a good book about the Middle East when it effectively walks the line of telling the truth and sensitivity, grace. The author avoids vilifying and making the Israelis one dimensional characters. In fact, Hayaat and Samy could not have completed their journey without the help of a Jewish Israeli couple sympathetic to their cause.
 I adored Hayaat and I applaud her temerity and determination to help her mother, though I absolutely think her decision is an impulsive and dangerous one. Readers can't help but root for our plucky heroine and realize that whether or not Hayatt truly makes it to Jerusalem is nearly not important than our emotional journey in spending a day with a realistic Palestinian child.   

Rating: 4 stars

Curricular Connection: Current Events, Cultural Studies

Words of Caution: There are some violent, disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
4 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This isn't my typical type of read, but I do always enjoy a heroine I can really get behind and root for, that makes a really enjoyable story for me:) Also you used the word "plucky" which is a complete win. Wonderful review as always Rummanah!

  2. This sounds like one of those books that all young people should read, I admit I feel so ignorant when it comes to this topic. There are really hardly any books out there, and if we want to change awareness, the word needs to get out. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  3. I'm starting to see more books on the Middle East but haven't seen any for the MG crowd. So glad this was sensitive and truthful. Sounds like a great book for MG kids.

  4. I really like the sound of this one, Rummanah. It's hard enough finding books that aren't set in the US, but MG books set in the Middle East are pretty rare. It's good that the author portrays the situation delicately and without a strong bias towards one faction.

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