What You Need to Know:|
• A young Palestinian girl, Hayaat, and her family struggle to survive the Israeli occupation of their land.
• Interwoven into Hayaat’s childhood, is the story of the oppression of the Palestinian people.
• Readers will be immersed into Palestinian culture.
• The glossary of Arabic words at the back is helpful.
• There are violent images of war-time tragedies, including shootings, gruesome deaths and the cruelty of soldiers.
I was inspired to do more research on the West Bank and the Palestinian people after reading this story and hope that young readers will do the same, so that they may draw their own conclusions in this complicated situation. Perhaps, years from now, one of Abdel-Fattah’s young readers will emerge as a future leader, someone with a unique concept to foster peace in this tormented region of the world. Until then, it is essential that we support books like this one, regardless of whether or not we agree with the point of view, because they encourage stimulating conversation and the generation of ideas that may shape our destiny as a global community.
The story centers around thirteen year-old Hayaat, her Palestinian family and their life in a poor neighborhood in Bethlehem, where they moved after “the Israelis confiscated our land in Beit Sahour.” They live in the shadows of the Wall separating them from Israel, and it serves as a symbol of their oppression, of “loss and death” according to Hayaat. She even remembers a story she heard of a man dismembered as his home was bulldozed during its construction. They suffer random curfews and ongoing humiliation by Israeli soldiers. Her family has been scarred emotionally but it is Hayaat who suffers a constant physical reminder of their situation with the scars on her face. She has been through a great deal, and even admits that at one time she thought that dying for freedom might have been a worthy cause – “like throwing oneself in front of a tank to protect an old man” but that she came to realize that “a courageous death is nice in theory only.” Hopefully readers will take note of this significant statement because it is so important in today's world. Despite their hardships and idiosyncrasies, Hayaat and her family are so normal. Parents argue, the siblings bicker, and the grandmother, Sitti Zeynab, farts - a lot. Hayaat and her best friend, Samy, play silly pranks and get into trouble at school. They use cell phones and refer to pop culture, like Michael Jackson. There is a strong bond among the family, especially between Hayaat and her grandmother. Surprisingly, they still seem to find humor in their lives, leaving the reader laughing unexpectedly between the tragedies. Some of the jokes are relevant to their location and their view of the world, like the grandmother saying Hayaat’s sister is so skinny people would think she had a holiday in Gaza, or Sammy and Hayaat’s shock when they learn that there’s a building in Italy that tips over and people actually think it’s special. As they say, “All our buildings are crooked.”
Throughout her life, Hayaat has heard of her grandmother’s heartache over losing her beautiful Jerusalem home to the Israelis. Because she does not have the proper paperwork, she can never even visit there again. Although she hates what happened, Sitti Zeynab says that “hatred will not give you comfort” and points out that Israelis are not really so different, that they have suffered as well. Hayaat, too, notices throughout the story that Israelis are, physically just like them in many ways. She takes it a step further, wondering what they are like – if they watch the same TV shows or if they care about the same things. When Sitti Zeynab falls ill, Hayaat resolves to go to Jerusalem and bring back soil from her grandmother’s property. Although it is only six miles away, with the checkpoints and restrictions on travel, it is a journey to get there. Accompanied by her friend Samy, they venture out, encountering a cast of characters along the way. While their mission is for Sitti Zeynab, it is a therapeutic experience for Hayaat and Samy as well. The physical obstacles are quite complex and I actually think it would have been helpful to have a map to follow their crusade.
Readers will become immersed into the Palestinian culture, from the family rituals and traditions, to the food and the language. Abdel-Fattah’s descriptive language will help create a picture in their minds and transport them to another world. The images of Hayaat’s father imploding, “rubble and ruins are inside him” and Hayaat’s friend, Maysaa’s face filling her dreams “like a faulty tap that won’t stop dripping” are powerful and poignant. The fact that this family feels so real, is what makes their plight that much more relevant. In a way, they represent families all over the world, from every culture and religion, that face adversity and meet the challenges and “roadblocks” that life presents, never giving up. They choose to survive and as Hayaat declares, to live with purpose. Although I enjoyed this book and recommend it, it did seem somewhat one-sided. Abdel-Fattah’s opinion is clearly heard through the grandmother in statements like “Sitti Zeynab’s village has never stopped calling her, beckoning her to return home.” and “I have sobbed for my land and it cries out for me in return.” Although she humanizes the Israeli soldiers and admits that we are all alike on the outside, she never offers a look inside their hearts and minds. We see them only from the Palestinian point of view. She doesn’t mention a suicide bomb until page 279 and even then, gives no explanation as to what that means to the Israelis, only that revenge is bad and that the Palestinians will pay for that action.
2010, 320 pages
Adventure, Community, Ethnicity/Culture, Family Life, Friendship, Good Book Club Selection, Grandparents, History, Physical/Mental Differences, Religion, Tolerance, War
• Did you know anything about this part of the world before reading the book?
• Did the book make you want to learn more about this culture or visit the places that it describes?
• Why do Hayaat and Samy have such a strong friendship?
• Did Hayaat and Samy do the right thing, going to Jerusalem on their own?
• How does Hayaat feel about the Israelis? How does this book make you feel about them?
• Why do the soldiers behave the way they do?
• Do you think that Hayaat is brave?
• Do you think that Hayaat’s family should get their land back?
• Hayaat’s mother says you can survive or give up – what would you do?
• What is the meaning behind the title of the book?
• Does “family” in Palestine mean the same thing as it does in your Country?
• Why is Samy so disappointed in Wasim?
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