Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review Extra: Words in the Dust

Words in the Dust
by Trent Reedy
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
Grades 6 and up
Reviewed from purchased copy.

I love reading books about other cultures, other places, and other times. But sometimes these stories can be really gut-wrenching. In this book, the main character, Zulaikha, is an Afghani with a cleft palate.  Not only does this make eating, smiling, and talking difficult, but she is treated poorly by both neighborhood boys and her stepmother.  It seems that her chances of making a good marriage are about nonexistent. When Zulaikha meets an old acquaintance of her mother, her desire of learning to read starts to bloom.  Then the opportunity to have her mouth fixed arises and learning to read becomes secondary.  At the same time, Zulaikha's sister, Zeynab, is preparing for marriage.  Just when it seems all will work out, a devastating blow falls on Zulaikha, and she has to decide what she wants the most.  I won't say any more than that because I don't want to give away the whole plot, just know that Zulaikha must make some hard choices.

The book is very well presented and written.  I was pleased at how well Reedy presents the hopes and desires of a girl from another culture.  Some of the events in the story are difficult to read about coming as I do from a culture where men and women are valued more equally, but I cheered for Zulaikha in her efforts to find a balance between her family and her growing desires for an education.  There were parts where I also grieved with Zulaikha when disappointments and heartache occurred.  For me, when I connect with a character the way I did with Zulaikha to the point of crying, it's a sign that the author did what he/she set out to do.  Highly recommended, but be sure to keep tissues handy. Note: some of the things mentioned in the book make it more appropriate for the more mature middle grade reader (severe burn described, war violence, cultural violence, etc).  The book could also very easily be used with high school as well.

Other reviews can be found at:

Edge Book Reviews
Fuse #8 Production
Children's Book & Play Review
Book Website (includes segments from professional reviews)
St. George's Senior Library Blog
The Pirate Tree
Publisher's Weekly

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