Words in the Dust

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
Based on actual experiences of an Afghani teen, this novel explores the hopes and dreams of thirteen-year-old Zulaikha, daughter of a welder in a mountain town near an American military base. The thoughtfully crafted narrative honestly and respectfully presents the social, economic, and cultural conditions of Afghani people, including similarities and differences between their hopes and ambitions and those of Americans. Reading list.

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