Eight stories about eight teens from eight different countries coming of age during a time of uncertainty and tumult in their native Middle East countries. In the title story, young Amal of Baghdad, Iraq, must find the very best gift for her departing literature teacher even while watching as her family’s already depleted resources continue to dwindle. In “Faces,” Suhayl of Syria comes to terms with his parents’ divorce, desperately hoping to make his mother happy once again.
Aneesi watches in horror when her beloved father is accused of theft in the wealthy Lebanese home in which they both work in “The Hand of Fatima.” When Mujahhid is sent away from Bethlehem and the constant shootings that already claimed his older brother’s life to stay with relatives in a remote village in “The Olive Grove,” he learns new ways of struggling for his people’s rights against the controlling Israelis without having to become yet another martyr.
An Egyptian city girl learns first hand about village life in “In Line,” a young Tunisian boy who sells his mother’s hats befriends a famous artist in “Scenes in a Roman Theater,” two brave girls in Jordan help save another from an honor killing in “Honor,” and a young Palestinian boy living in a refugee camp in Lebanon helps his isolated older brother possibly find real love.
While the circumstances of these young lives might first seem unfamiliar to a western audience, universal truths about what all children want soon emerge. Differences that all too often get magnified by the media fall away as the children in these pages come of age, sharing their lives with friends, dealing with the occasional conflict with parents, and trying to fit into their communities – all the while surviving war, deprivation, political uncertainty, and imminent dangers.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Samir, a young Palestinian boy, must go to the “Jews’ hospital” for a serious operation to save his injured knee. Having just lost his younger brother to Palestinian/Israeli crossfire, Samir is understandably anxious about entering what he sees as enemy territory.
Waiting for the American doctor, he lies in a children’s ward with four other injured children – frightened Razia avoiding her father who beat her in a drunken rage, ethereal Ludmilla who will barely react to even food, rambunctious Tzahi with an Israeli soldier for an older brother, and intriguing Yonatan with a whole other night life of his own. Samir is fed full meals for the first time in his life, the medical staff is only too kind to him, and even the children – each with their own tales of hardship – eventually welcome him one by one. While waiting to recover, Yonatan helps Samir resolve his anguished feelings for his murdered brother.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2000 (United States)
An intriguing collection of interviews with one of the most brilliant minds today. Originally broadcast on KGNU in Boulder, Colo., the interviews cover such topics as the so-called peace process, the 2000 Palestinian uprising, and terrorism. Battling leukemia since the early 1990s, Said refuses to be silenced. Indeed, with such legacies as this book, his words will live on indefinitely.
Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, August 29, 2003
A poetic first novel with some amazing images (“ … try to remember the wisdoms you unpacked that life scattered around your living room,” the author’s prologue begins) by an Arab American about four cousins living different lives in the West Bank, in Jordan, and in the United States, trying to navigate cultures, expectations, and their own dreams.
Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, August 1, 2003