Monday, November 07, 2011

Words in the Dust

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.


  1. I won this one on Goodreads. Great review--I completely agree. :-)

  2. Loved this book. I personally think it should win a Newbery honor.

  3. Farah Soldier8:20 AM EST

    Understand your statement about the fate of Zeynab. However, as one of the soldiers that was there and who met the real Zulaikha and saw the girl in the hospital that Zeynab was based on I would like to say that that is exactly why I liked this "out of place" overly dramatic part. You see that is what war is like, boring, undramatic, grinding until out of nowhere a bomb blast rips through the night, gun fire rolls down the street in a flash jolting you out of a peaceful slumber or... a young girl dowses herself with gasoline and lights a match in the cool of a calm morning.

    That's war... boredom punctuated by horror.

  4. Farah Soldier has a good point. Obviously, plenty of overly dramatic things happen in real life, but there was so much going on with Zulaikha that I felt that Zeynab's fate didn't get quite enough time. That would almost be another book right there. For students, processing Zulaikha's life is quite a lot.