Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
Words in the Dust

Words in the Dust

Spring 2011 Historical Fiction
Ages: 9 - 13 yrs.
Author: Trent Reedy
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-545-26125-8
Hardcover Price: $17.99

Since Zulaikha’s mother died at the hands of the Taliban, her life has grown more and more difficult. Her stepmother can’t seem to bear the sight of Zulaikha’s cleft palate, and the village boys taunt her more and more mercilessly. Her beloved sister, Zeynab, is about to be married, and though Zulaikha is happy for her, she knows she will lose one of her only allies and friends. Even though Zeynab’s marriage brings her father plenty of well-paid work and prosperity for the family, and the American soldiers pouring into Afghanistan offer Zulaikha the hope of surgical correction for her palate, Zulaikha’s round of daily drudgery never seems to change. It is only when she meets Meena, a former university teacher and a friend of her mother’s, that Zulaikha finds the world of words and poetry opening to her, giving her the hope of a new life through education.

Reedy, a soldier who served in Afghanistan for a year, based this novel upon the story of a girl whom he met there. Readers and fans of Greg Mortenson’s books about his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan will be interested in this fictionalized account of the difference that schools can make to those hoping to attend one. Reedy handles many potentially divisive issues gracefully, portraying the hope, energy, and generosity that the Americans come to represent for Zulaikha as well as the missteps, insults, and humiliations that result from their cultural ignorance and that threaten to undo their efforts. Zulaikha’s narrative voice is not particularly distinctive, but readers will nevertheless be drawn into her story and her aspirations, and the topical relevance of the book will entice reluctant readers and provoke much thoughtful discussion.

Naomi Lesley   ©2011 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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