Fourteen year old Liyana Abboud lives in St. Louis with her Palestinian father, American mother and younger brother, Rafik. Experiencing her first kiss, life is just getting interesting when her doctor father announces that the
family is packing up and moving to Jerusalem to live in the midst of her Palestinian relatives. Having
grown up in the United States with little knowledge of that part of the world, except what she has seen on television, this seems
like the end of everything that is important to Liyana.
Culture shock hits the minute the family arrives
at their destination. First guards detain the family and search through all their possessions.
Next come the many relatives, hugging, talking, kissing, pinching, and grandmother Sitti’s trilling, which she
uses in moments of extreme emotion. Everything is different, the women’s
dresses, the kaffiyehs men wear on their heads, the villages, homes, furnishings, and the food. Liyana learns that many things are considered inappropriate behavior including shorts, boy/girl friendships,
and friendships between the Palestinians and Jews.
As an outsider, Liyana must learn the language,
and the way of life. She attends an Armenian school and begins to absorb the
culture and beauty of the area surrounding her including the small shops and restaurants serving dishes like falafel and katayef
(a pancake stuffed with cinnamon and nuts and covered with syrup). She meets
and becomes attracted to Omer, whom she learns later, is Jewish. This turn of
events flies in the face of convention causing her father, Poppy, to reassess his belief system. Liyana reminds him of his statement “It would be great if people never described each other as the
Jew or the Arab or the black guy or the white guy” and eventually Poppy gives in
The reader is immersed in the rich tapestry that
is the Middle East. We see through the eyes of people who live in this beautiful, ancient, and dangerous
area. The reader gets a sense of everyday life through the interesting characters
within the story. Liyana and Rafik befriend Khaled and Nadine from the refugee
camp and they visit a Bedouin encampment. The troubled history and the complexity of the Palestinian and Israeli relations
become clearer through this story.
Naomi Shihab Nye’s background is similar
to that of her main character which brings an authenticity to the story. Having
Palestinian and American parents she learned to accept the differences between peoples.
She says, “This is one of the best things about growing up in a mixed family or community. You never think only one way of doing or seeing anything is right” (Ansari, et al). She weaves and blends American cultural elements with the culture of Palestinians including the foods,
clothing, language and Arabic and Hebrew vocabulary, lifestyle, and traditions. One
can almost visualize Sitti’s village and picture the extended family through the vivid images Nye describes. I came to respect the family and especially Sitti who has lived through difficult times but says, “I
never lost my peace inside” (Nye). There is a personal sense of story and
you can’t help but wish for peace and understanding to come to this part of the world and to the good people who reside