Thursday, July 7, 2011

Words in the Dust review

Words in the Dust
by Trent Reedy
Arthur A. Levine Books
January 2011

13 year-old Zulaikha lives a hard life in rural Afghanistan. She has a cleft palate - a split lip that disfigures her face, making it difficult to eat or talk. Her beautiful sister Zeynab is her best friend and strongest ally. Her overwhelmed and grouchy pregnant stepmother prays for a son, and her much-adored father is scornful of his houseful of girls. By chance, Zulaikha runs into an American soldier who offers to pull in some favors and get her surgery, for free. Zulaikha is on an emotional roller-coaster as she copes with her sister's upcoming wedding as fourth wife to an uncaring older man, and her hopes and dreams are dashed when there's a problem with the helicopter flight that is supposed to take her to the doctor. Reedy does a great job of portraying the complexities of her father - a powerless yet very, very proud man, who wishes the best for Zulaikha, but can't or won't understand something as simple as a weather delay, taking it as a personal affront. This is a man that Zulaikha looks up to and adores, who is regarded as a liberal and kind man, but also doesn't hold back from brutally punching his pregnant wife in a fit of pique.

The inclusion of a few Dari language terms: inshallah meaning God willing and tashakor for thank you, lend an authentic foreign feel to the text without being overwhelming. Ironically, Zeynab's beauty does her no favors as her marriage quickly goes sour and her sister-wives burden her with all the household chores until she finally succumbs to a "kitchen accident" burned alive in kerosene. The story wraps things up quickly, with an unusual opportunity for Zulaikha to get an education. This is a sophisticated and sympathetic look at the problems and opportunities in modern-day Afghanistan. Reedy fairly presents the facts, and trusts the readers to draw their own conclusions. Highly recommended for classroom use.

I borrowed this book from the library.


  1. A while ago I was reading anything about Afghanistan that I could get my hands on. This looks like a good one to add.

  2. I hope books like these do a lot to add to children's cultural literacy... there are some good books on Afghanistan and some not-so-great ones, and this is definitely one of the better ones I've seen.

  3. Interesting. Doesn't sound like light reading at all, especially that "accident." It does sound like a book that I'd learn a lot from though. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. It's written at a middle-grade level - the violence is not too explicit. But you're right, it is still kind of a heavy book.



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