This was my first read by Randa Abdel-Fattah, but certainly won’t be the last. Highly recommended.
Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best-friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.
But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.
List time! Here’s what I loved about this book:
- Hayaat’s voice was really powerfully wrought and pulled me into the narrative. She felt completely real, as a thirteen-year-old living in an environment of oppression and conflict. Her backstory is progressively hinted at from the beginning, and had a strong emotional impact on me when it was revealed.
- Samy, Hayaat’s best friend, was endearing and hilarious. I loved the banter between him and Hayaat, which added a lightness, in an appropriate way, to the tension throughout their journey. It was also fun to see all the quirks and nuances of his interests (e.g. soccer) that added realism to his character.
- The family dynamics throughout the story were moving and relatable. I especially loved the relationship between Hayaat and Sitti Zeynab.
- The SETTING. The author was incredible at immersing me in the world, and it’s refreshing to read a story set in the Middle East. Not only that, but the emotions were intrinsic to the setting, making it feel all the more real.
- Leading on from that, I loved the cultural and language details throughout the story.
- The dangers and tensions of Hayaat and Samy’s journey made the story gripping, with high stakes maintained throughout, which escalated at each barrier and setback they faced.
- There was a hero’s-journey feel to the book, as they met different people along the way. It was really enjoyable and heartwarming to see the friendships they formed, and people helping each other.
- There were some beautiful and moving scenes near the end, which really showed the pain and oppression endured by the people of West Bank, and the role of hope and purpose to staying resilient
- Apart from the inevitable – due to the situation of unresolved conflict between the states – almost everything was clearly wrapped up at the end of the story, which gave a satisfying sense of closure and the feeling I’d really followed the characters through to the end
In summary: read this incredible book, especially if you’re looking for moving relationships and a journey storyline, and are interested in the Middle-Eastern setting