October 25th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
This is the author's memoir of her childhood, and is divided into chapters based on where her family was living at the time. They move from a more suburban house to an apartment in the city, and then out to a smaller town. Her father, who has narcolepsy, struggles to keep working, and at one point is so distraught that he loads the entire family in the truck, intending to kill them all, but deciding not to because they were all willing to go with him. The mother is determined to have a family with five boys, as well as the author and her sister. When the family moves to a smaller village, Ibtisam struggles because her family is poor and many of the students are wealthy, so she is just as happy when the family moves back to the city. Although many of her friends are quitting school to get married, Ibtisam is determined to go to college and become a writer. To her surprise, her mother decides to go to high school at the same time she does, despite having seven children and her family being against a married woman being in a coeducational school. In addition to internal struggles, the family has to deal with the events going on in Palestine. Family members are separated, and various conflicts come perilously close to the family home. By the end of the book, Ibtisam graduates from high school, gets a good scholarship, and attracts the notice of a publisher who wants to hear her authentic Palestinian voice.
Strengths: This had a good balance between personal experiences and historical information that helped make sense of what was going on. I always love details of ordinary life, and this had plenty of them. The chapters dealing with the mother's return to school were interesting and inspiring. The tone of this was story-like enough that I think I can find a lot of readers for this.
Weaknesses: I haven't read the story of this author's childhood, Tasting the Sky, but need to remedy that right away.
What I really think: This very well done memoir will be popular among my students because of the personal detail, and will hopefully inform them about an interesting facet of Middle Eastern history as well.