Two stories. Two girls. Different continents. Different lives. Great reads.
by Trent Reedy
Aurthur A. Levine Books (January 2011)
Ages 10 and up
Inspired by an encounter with an Afghani girl during his military tour of duty, author Trent Reedy offers a remarkable debut novel that's rich, satisfying and (from this outsider's viewpoint) so authentic it's hard to believe it was written by an American soldier, let alone a man. Words in the Dust is narrated with such confidence and intuitive understanding of what it means to be a girl living in an oppressive society, I was totally immersed in a world that should feel light years away in terms of geography and culture, but which Reedy crafts with such intimacy, I can practically taste the dust and disappointment as though I'm living it.
The story revolves around thirteen year-old Zulaikha who was born with a cleft palate, further isolating her from a society that already devalues her because of gender. Her mother having been killed years earlier at the hands of the Taliban, she lives in servitude to a stepmother who can't bear the sight of her. However, when American soldiers offer to correct her cleft palate, Zulaikha's hopes for a better life, free of abuse and ridicule. The question remains, however: Even with the surgery, what will life hold for a girl in a culture that denies the value of women?
Reedy handles these (and other) painfully complex issues with careful respect, not once stooping to sentimentality or simplification of unresolvable issues. Despite the inability to provide a tidy ending, he manages to produce a satisfying and realistic conclusion.
THE MAP OF ME
by Tami Lewis Brown
Farrar Straus Giroux (August, 2011)
The Map of Me, by Tami Lewis Brown, was such a treat to read, I was sorry to see it end so soon. At 150 pages long, it's short, but complete (not one bit unfinished feeling). I simply wanted to spend more time in this topsy turvy world of twelve-year old Margie Tempset and her annoyingly brilliant little sister, Peep.
Margie's first person narration is refreshingly different and, at times, laugh out loud funny, despite the fact that the story revolves around a deeply dysfunctional family and Margie's frantic search for their mother whom she believes has taken off in search of a Henny Penny Coin Canister. This is unreliable narration at its best—driven by a denial to face the truth rather than a narrator's intentional deception.
Margie is so sweetly, fabulously flawed in her thinking, Brown has the reader pulling for her in spite of the fact that she lies fairly easily, steals her father's car and takes her little sister on a road trip that's not nearly as easy as she anticipates. The characters are so fully drawn, they walk right off the page. Brown depicts the parents with small strokes of brilliance—light touches that tell the reader these two kids are pretty much on their own even when both parents are around.
As unbelievable as the story line might seem (two kids on a wild ride through the back roads of Kentucky), it's probably one of the most emotionally honest stories I've read this year.
Source: I borrowed both copies from the library. The real library, not that hideous Amazon Kindle crap.