Reedy, Trent. Words in the Dust.
Nominated for the Cybils by Greg Leitich Smith
Zulaikha lives in a small town in Afghanistan and has many challenges-- she has a cleft lip, her mother has died and her stepmother makes her work very hard, and her father struggles to keep the family going. Her older sister Zeynab is about to be married to a much older man. Things improve when members of the American army offer to fix Zulaikha's lip, but it is difficult to arrange this with the wedding. When a teacher of her mother's starts to teach Zulaikha to read and appreciate poetry, she starts to realize that she may not have to stay in the narrow and difficult world of her family.
Strengths: The day-to-day details of life in Afghanistan are wonderful, and the interactions of the family realistically portrayed. Reedy's notes indicate that he did a lot of research and checking to make this as accurate as possible, and it shows. Inclusion of native terms and end notes about the plight of Afghan women add much to the story. This would be an excellent book to use along with Ellis' The Breadwinner, which students find fascinating.
Weaknesses: The fate of Zeynab seemed a bit overly dramatic; not that it wasn't realistic, but the rest of the book is so... NOT dramatic that it felt out of place. A very small complaint about an excellent book.