Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: WORDS IN THE DUST by Trent Reedy

Reedy, Trent. Words in the Dust. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011. ISBN 0-545-26125-8. $17.99, $20.99 CAN

I should have known, after reading Katherine Paterson’s hearty endorsement in the introduction, that this book would be dangerous for my sleep. I couldn’t put it down and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing it!

Words in the Dust, Reedy’s first young adult novel, is inspired by a real girl he met while serving in Afghanistan. The main character, Zulaikha, has a cleft lip; in traditional Afghanistan, she’s always been the brunt of jokes and shame.  But writing provides her the opportunity to express herself beyond the limits of her disfigured appearance and to remind herself of her deceased mother. When American solders enter her village, they offer her cosmetic surgery, her older sister gets engaged, and she begins to take secret reading lessons with an older woman named Meena – her dreams have all come true. But Zulaikha learns that fulfilled wishes are not as simple as they seem, and life is often very complicated.

The text is filled with relatable, engaging characters. There are moments of intense action and suspense, such as the flashback to Zulaikha’s mother’s murder by the Taliban, as well as moments of heart-rending sympathy, such as the scene of the tragedy that befalls Zulaikha’s sister. Zulaikha deals with difficult adolescent issues like self-identity, bullying, and fairness, as well as larger adult issues of freedom, like women’s rights, honor killing, arranged marriage, and war.  Zulaikha is a positive example for young girls: her choices are not easy, and she manages to pass through challenges with sincere grace and maturity.

Marisa Behan

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