5/22/11 ** I've been putting off reading this tremendous book because the idea of reading it felt like work - too literary, too sad. Like so many literary middle-grades novels, the book is well worth the (potential) tears. This poignant story will make you think about the role of women in any society, the need for self-choice as teens emerge into adulthood, and the arrogance that Americans display to those in other cultures.
Trent Reedy is a debut author who we will definitely see more of. This book is inspired by the time he spent as a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. He has also been a high school English teacher and attended one of the finest children's lit MFA programs in the country. Finally, he has been mentored by none other than Katherine Patterson.
Zulaika is a young Afghani woman (early teen) living with her family - an older sister & brother, two younger brothers, her step-mother, and her father. She often feels that her father's wife picks on her and assigns more chores than necessary. We soon find out that Zulaika also has a cleft lip, her front teeth point forward, and she has difficulty eating. The plot centers around the incipient wedding of her older sister, the hopes and dreams that both girls have, and the secret reading & writing lessons that Zulaika has with an old seamstress who used to be a university professor (before the Taliban gained power.)
Pick this book up at your first opportunity.