A contemporary 13-year-old Muslim teen's life changes profoundly when American forces arrive in her war-torn Afghanistan village. Born with a cleft palate, Zulaikha's tormented by boys calling her "donkey-face," adults averting their eyes and an insensitive stepmother. With marriage unlikely, Zulaikha secretly learns to read and write, emulating her birth mother, who was murdered by the Taliban for keeping books. As the Americans build a village school, Zulaikha's father wins a construction contract and arranges a marriage for her beloved sister with a wealthy older man. When the Americans fly her to Kandahar for successful reconstructive surgery, Zulaikha finally looks and feels normal until family tragedy strikes and she realizes "normal" isn't everything. Drawing from personal experiences in Afghanistan, Reedy creates a multidimensional heroine who introspectively reflects on how to "be patient enough to forget all the ugliness and focus on . . . good things" in an oppressive culture where women are undervalued. An inside look at an ordinary Afghanistan family trying to survive in extraordinary times, it is both heart-wrenching and timely. (pronunciation guide, glossary, author's note, notes on Persian poetry, recommended reading) (Fiction. 9-13)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
In his first novel, Reedy, a former soldier in Afghanistan, examines the restrictive experiences of contemporary Afghan girls through sympathetic 13-year-old narrator Zulaikha. Zulaikha's cleft palate makes her an object of ridicule for local merchants, bullies, and even her younger brother. Although Zulaikha's disability often relegates her to a serving and observing role, it allows her more freedom to leave her home than her 15-year-old sister, Zeynab, who will soon wed. Contact outside Zulaikha's family provides compelling insights for Zulaikha, such as her ad hoc education by Meena, a professor who knew and taught Zulaikha's bookish mother (a proclivity that led to her death), and with the American soldiers who offer to operate on her lip and teeth. "Even with the swelling, I looked almost normal. And I had the Americans, as ignorant and wasteful as they were, to thank." Within the family, the evolution of key relationships presents a nuanced look at family dynamics and Afghan culture. Though unsentimental and fraught with tragedy, Reedy's narrative offers hope and will go a long way toward helping readers understand the people behind the headlines. Ages 9-14. (Jan.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 5-8--Zulaikha's life in Afghanistan is not easy. She is teased constantly for a facial deformity and although the Taliban is no longer in power, it has violently taken her mother from her, and the 13-year-old is left keeping house for a busy, traditional father and his bad-tempered wife. She is trapped by the confines of her culture as well as by her own fears, but things begin to change when she meets a mysterious woman who wants to work with her on her writing and teach her about poetry. When American soldiers roll into town and offer her the chance to fix her cleft palate, Zulaikha allows herself to wish for a better and different future. Reedy was inspired by a girl he met during his tour of duty in Afghanistan, and Zulaikha's character is based loosely on her experiences. Infused with poetry, and wrought with hardship, the story gives a bleak, but ultimately hopeful, portrayal of girlhood in Afghanistan. It is full of hard truths, painful lessons, beautiful human interaction, and the promise of possibility.--Sharon Senser McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA[Page 118]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.