These are the words Zulaikha knows how to write, tracing their swirls in the dust of the Afghan mountains. When she writes, she isn’t the girl with a cleft lip, a girl the mean boys call “Donkeyface”; she’s her mother’s daughter, worthy of her name, which means “a brilliant beauty”.
Army. Poetry. Wedding. Surgery.
Then American soldiers roll into Zulaikha’s village, bringing new threats and opportunities – even the chance of an operation to fix her face. A woman named Meena offers to teach her to read, adding to her precious store of words. And her sister Zeynab gets engaged at last, fulfilling the fairy tale both girls have dreamed of.
Loss. Hope. Ending. Beginning.
But wishing for change can be dangerous, and change itself more frightening still. As her world shifts around her, Zulaikha must find the right way to use all her words to claim a future as yet unwritten.
This book was inspired by a real girl that Trent Reedy met in Afghanistan. I came across this while browsing the Diversity in YA Fiction blog. The story follows Zulaikha, a girl who is teased and bullied by her community for her cleft lip. She has never learned to read, except for a few words that her mother had taught her before her death at the hands of the Taliban. When American soldiers come to her small town and commission her father to help build schools, Zulaikha begins to hope for a brighter future.
I found this story to be so amazing in how it chronicles the shift that occurs within a conservative family after the Taliban is gone. And more importantly, it shows that not all of the conservative traditions are “forced” upon the young women. As Zulaikha grows more, and sees the fate of Zeynab (who is a third wife to a much older husband), she begins to see the potential for school (which she felt was of no use to a wife). We also see Zulaikha’s brothers, father (and eventually herself) begin to throw away the Taliban view of women. Absolutely wonderful! I am very excited to have added such a rich book to our collection.
“Bah. Let him play.” Baba backhanded our concerns out of his way with the same movement he used to shoo flies from his rice. He reached into his pocket again and pulled out a shiny caramel, unwrapping it for Habib. “Here, bacha. You eat this. I’ll give Khalid his when he gets home.”
“But Sadiq, Khalid is just -”
“I said let him play!” Baba shouted. He slapped thw all, then paced to the front window in the silence. When he turned around, he spoke very quietly. “I’ll not be contradicted in my own house.” He glared at Malehkah. “Khalid is a growing boy. He is getting too old to listen to women.”
My mouth hung open at Baba’s words. I watched Malehkah take in a breath to speak, then press her lips together to let it out through her nose. She couldn’t argue with Baba, but her anger was clear, and Malehkah had ways of forcing me to regret her anger.
Other Important But Boring Info
Reading Time: 1 hour
Re-Readability : 3.5/5
Rating : 4.5/5
Price: Chapters- $15.95/ Amazon – $12.23 USD
Note: Not available in e-book format
Check out this student review of Words In The Dust on Kiss The Book, a book blog created by school librarians that feature reviews by library professionals and students! Lots of great books, and great reviews.