Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan. She hopes for a better relationship with her hard stepmother. And she hopes one day even to go to school. Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the poetry she once taught her mother. And the Americans come to the village, promising not just new opportunities, but surgery to mend Zulaikha's face. But can Zulaikha dare to hope they will come true?
Trent Reedy's breathtaking first novel is based on his experiences serving with the US Army in Afghanistan and, in a land where hidebound traditions clash with an emerging desire for freedom, offers humanity and hope.
In his first novel, Reedy, a former soldier in Afghanistan, examines the restrictive experiences of contemporary Afghan girls through sympathetic 13-year-old narrator Zulaikha. Zulaikha's cleft palate makes her an object of ridicule for local merchants, bullies, and even her younger brother. Although Zulaikha's disability often relegates her to a serving and observing role, it allows her more freedom to leave her home than her 15-year-old sister, Zeynab, who will soon wed. Contact outside Zulaikha's family provides compelling insights for Zulaikha, such as her ad hoc education by Meena, a professor who knew and taught Zulaikha's bookish mother (a proclivity that led to her death), and with the American soldiers who offer to operate on her lip and teeth. "Even with the swelling, I looked almost normal. And I had the Americans, as ignorant and wasteful as they were, to thank." Within the family, the evolution of key relationships presents a nuanced look at family dynamics and Afghan culture. Though unsentimental and fraught with tragedy, Reedy's narrative offers hope and will go a long way toward helping readers understand the people behind the headlines. Ages 9 14.