Here’s the seemingly simple story: When her grandmother falls ill, 13-year-old Hayaat decides that a jarful of her ancestral soil – a mere six miles away – will be the very thing that will make her grandmother well, so Hayaat grabs her best friend and goes off on her quest.
But … there’s always the ‘but’ … when home is a conflict zone, six miles might as well be 600. Hayaat is a Palestinian living inside heavily guarded walls in Bethlehem, her family forcibly displaced from her father’s home of many generations once filled with olive trees and open space. Now cramped into a tiny apartment, the family of seven is often at odds with one another, their movement restricted by long curfews. The family matriarch, Hayaat’s grandmother, has little left beyond her stories of another time and place, of family Hayaat can never meet except through the stories she never tires of hearing.
Hayaat bears the scars, both inside and out, of a childhood amidst guns, soldiers, and shifting borders. Her best friend Samy is a virtual orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, having lost his father to prison and his mother to a heart attack soon thereafter. The intrepid pair venture forth through barriers, guard towers, and checkpoints – never mind not having any travel permits – and head toward Jerusalem with only a vague description of a long-ago neighborhood and a much-missed home. Their journey is aided by the kindness of strangers, including a peace activist couple, the husband a former Israeli Defense Force soldier who refused to finish his service in protest of the military mistreatment of Palestinians.
Randa Abdel-Fattah – Australian-born and domiciled, of Egyptian and Palestinian descent – offers a sobering novel about the harsh lives of children who inherit the consequences and tragedies of adult hostilities. In spite of childhoods stolen by violence, identities shaped by resentment and hatred, young people like Hayaat somehow manage to hold on to their humanity: “… so long as there is life there’ll be love … I’ll do more than survive … in the end we are all of us only human beings who laugh the same, and … one day the world will realize that we simply want to live as free people, with hope and dignity and purpose. That is all.”
Out of the mouth of babes …
Tidbit: Just as I finished writing this post, this link serendipitously landed in my inbox from a dear friend: “Books about Contemporary Palestine for Children” by Katharine Davies Samway. Timing really IS everything!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2008, 2010 (United States)