Monday, May 16, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Words in the Dust

Thanks so much, everyone, for making me so welcome on my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday debut last week. I appreciated your comments and visiting some other great blogs.

Now for this week's offering: Words in the Dust, by Trent Reedy

I have a softspot for novels set outside the USA. If you want some rudimentary psychoanalysis (which I'm sure you don't, but I'm giving it to you anyway), this interest in other cultures probably stems from my being schlepped across the world as a child by my diplomat parents and living in eight different countries.

Which is a long preamble to why I'm RAVING about a book about a young girl with a cleft lip in Afghanistan. Words in the Dust is the debut of Trent Reedy, and is told from the viewpoint of thirteen-year-old Zulaikah. She is jeered at and sneered at by the local ruffians, and constantly reminded by her father's second wife that she will be lucky if anyone wants to marry her.

Zulaikah, however, has immense inner resources. (She is also a bit of an action heroine at one point, rescuing her younger brother from a dangerous situation.) She strikes up a friendship with an older woman--a friend of her dead mother's--and under this woman's tutelage begins the long struggle to learn to read. (She scratches out her letters in the dust, hence the title.)

(Subplot: Her older sister, Zeynab, is Zulaikah's best friend. So it is with a mixture of pride and sorrow that Zulaikah watches Zeynab's marriage to the well-off brother of a local luminary. This seems to be a marriage of one's dreams, but tragedy awaits.)

Enter the Americans. A convoy, traveling through the village, spots Zulaikah. They return with a medical officer--a woman, much to the dismay of the Afghans--who tells Zulaikah's father that she thinks Zulaikah's lip can be fixed. The American-Afghan relationship is shown in all its complexity, with the understanding that, for the Afghans, the Americans are strange creatures, powerful yet uncomprehending of even the simplest of Afghan cultural courtesies. (Zulaikah is horrified that Captain Mindy, the medical officer, shakes her father's hand, and talks to Zulaikah before addressing her older brother.)

The novel ends with a rollercoaster of events, which I won't reveal so as not to spoil the ending for you. (Because you must read this book!)

P.s. My wife, who had a cleft lip and palate as a child, and therefore has some great insights, also wrote a review on her book blog.

Other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviewers you HAVE to read:

-Joanne Fritz features GREY GRIFFINS: THE CLOCKWORK CHRONICLES (Books 1 and 2) with a GIVEAWAY. Click HERE to read her review and enter.

-Shannon O'Donnell always has an awesome MMGM recommendation. Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week.

-Barbara Watson is highlighting BELLE PRATER'S BOY. Click HERE to see what she thinks.

-Aly Beecher is featuring JUNIPER BERRY--with a GIVEAWAY. Click HERE for details on how to enter.

-Myrna Foster is spotlighting THE SECRET OF PLATFORM 13. Click HERE to read her review.

Plus, of course, the MMGM Mother of them all, Shannon Whitney Messenger, who reviews Shannon Hale's THE GOOSE GIRL--with a GIVEAWAY. You can find the review HERE.


  1. Our pal Shannon M. is definitely THE mama of them all. :-)

    Great review Michael. Great psychoanalysis, too. Er, if the writing thing is slow looks like you have another way to make some cash, my friend. *wink*

    I had heard about Words in the Dust and NOW I KNOW I gotta have it. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Oh, I adored this book. Reviewed it a while back. I think it even has Newbery potential. Great choice for MMGM, Michael!

    Thanks for the link. I'm adding you to my links right now.

  3. Nice review - I haven't read it yet but it's now added to my list.

    Great post Michael!

  4. Thanks for the recommendation and the link! This one looks excellent.

  5. Great choice. I recognize this from the cover though I haven't read it yet. And I bet you have lots of cool experiences for your books from all your travels as a kid.

  6. What a fascinating growing-up you must have had! I've seen this cover also and now will read it. Thank you for the review.

  7. Hey! Welcome to MMGM...and thanks for this review, I've seen this book many a time and keep meaning to pick it up. I will be sure to do so next time and get it for the library, too.

    Another series you might like is by Deborah Ellis...The Bread Winner Trilogy. About kids living in warn torn countries who are the family..bread winners. These are a series that have been recommended to me by kid.s Clearly I should be recommending Words in the Dust back to them!

  8. Great pick, I love rollercoaster-paced books. I'll have to check it out.


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