This is the second book I have read by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and I still don’t know if I love her as an author, but I did enjoy the content of Where the Streets had a Name, much more so than I did with Does My Head Look Big in This? The timeliness of this book is also as apparent as ever with the genocide and occupation occurring in Palestine, had I read it years ago I don’t know if it would have had the pull that it had on me, reading in now. With all the images on social media and the news, this book really does a remarkable job of showing the daily struggles for Palestinians in terms of settlements and check points and just basic day-to-day living that is hard to imagine from anywhere outside of Palestine. While some may find it slow moving I enjoyed the detail and childlike perspective of the world as seen through the 13 year-old characters in the book. Despite all the material for it to be a preachy, political, and gruesome, it is not, it is undoubtedly told from a Palestinian Muslim perspective, but the supporting characters come from all backgrounds and focus on the humanity contained with in us all: Muslim, Christian, Jew, and even Israeli.
Hayaat’s family has been kicked out of their home by Israeli soldiers and are living cramped up in Bethlehem, struggling with no jobs, curfews, and the impending wedding of Hayaat’s sister to a boy on the other side of the checkpoint. When Hayaat’s beloved, albeit farting, grandama, Sitti Zeynab, falls ill Hayaat believes that she needs to touch her ancestral land to recover. With a curfew free day, her best friend Samy at her side, and an empty hummus jar, the kids sneak out from school to try and bring back a handful of dirt. The journey is only a few miles, but with checkpoints, a protest, soldiers and documents, the chances that Hayaat and Samy will retrieve the dirt is minimal, as their priority becomes to make it out safe. The book is fiction, but from all reviews that I’ve read, it very well could be real, it’s accuracy of the struggles endured and the hope that still remains are not completely fabricated.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that Hayaat is a Muslim Palestinian, Samy is a Christian Palestinian, along their journey they meet kind Israeli’s fighting for Palestine, they meet horrible people and soldier’s too, but it is never a black and white issue. Zionism is what makes life so painstakingly difficult for Samy and Hayaat and all those around them, all the while tourists are flocking around as if walls and checkpoints are the norm. The first 50 pages of the book are a mess, I don’t know if it is because it is translated from Arabic or if it is just the author’s style to overload and stuff everything in at the beginning that might possibly be interesting or funny to hook the reader. Either way, it doesn’t work and once you get through those 50 pages and the adventure with Samy and Haayat begins and Sitti Zeynab’s story starts to be woven through and we learn more about how Hayaat’s face was scarred, the story starts getting good. Similarly the book is about 50 pages too long, after the adventure I was ready for the story to end, but I suppose the wedding of Hayaat’s sister, Jihan, has to take place. Even though it is critical to see the logistical nightmare of having a West Bank girl marrying an Israeli Arab from Lod, the story gets muddled and loses its flow both at the beginning and end with the details of living in Ramallah and figuring out what roads to take to have the ceremony. Adults may appreciate it, but with an AR reading level of 4.8, the target audience gains a better appreciation for the struggles of the Palestinians through the main story. In total with the glossary and acknowledgement the book is 313 pages.
The book is remarkably clean, there is a slight joke about birth control pills, but Hayaat doesn’t understand it, and her companions on the service (bus) don’t explain it to her, so I doubt the young readers will get it either. (Hayaat thinks her sister shouldn’t get married if it is making her sick and she can’t understand why every day at the same time her mother makes her take a tiny pill.)
There is some violence, but it is not explicit, it is more emotional when Hayaat’s friend is killed and Hayaat’s face marred. Similarly she blacks out during the protest, so there isn’t much description
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I do plan to do this as a book club book, I think the students are well aware of the situation and it might be a good place to let them voice their thoughts and emotions. I may also have a Palestinian sit in on the discussion, to help keep it accurate.
Discussion questions: www.panmacmillan.com.au/resources/RA-WhereTheStreetsHadAName.pdf
Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/