It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

aintsoawfulby Firoozeh Dumas
First sentence: “Today’s Sunday and we’re moving, again.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s no swearing (well, maybe a mild one) but the subject matter — middle school and the Iran Revolution in 1978 — might be a little mature for the younger set. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section (or the YA — grades 6-8 — section, I haven’t decided) of the bookstore.

I was in third grade in 1981 when the American hostages in Iran were released and I have a vague memory of it. Nothing substantive, just some hazy images of me seeing the news on TV. I don’t know much else about that, and even though I’ve read a bit about the Iranian revolution, that’s one aspect that I didn’t know much about.

Zomorod Yousefzadeh is in America because her father has a job with an oil company in California. They’ve been here before, when Zomorod was younger, but now she’s going into 6th grade, and she wants to turn over a new leaf. Be more American. So, she changes her name to Cindy and sets out to make new friends. It’s not easy being Iranian in California in the late 1970s (most people either think she’s Mexican, or ask her if she owns a camel. The answer is no to both), but eventually, Cindy figures things out. And then the Iranian revolution happens, and suddenly the home she and her parents thought they could go back to is no longer there. Add to that, Americans were taken hostage, and suddenly Cindy and her parents find themselves subjected to anti-Iranian sentiment. Her father loses his job. Garbage is left on their doorstep. Kids at school tell her to “go home”. It’s not easy.

Loosely based on Dumas’ life, this novel not only captures a slice of history (fairly accurately, but without being kitschy) but also manages to be timely as well. I found myself thinking about how Americans reacted to Muslims after 9/11 (or now, really). Or how immigrants are treated in general. It’s a good thing to see American life from the perspective of an immigrant, and to find out that we’re equal parts good and bad. (Which really isn’t a surprise.) Dumas also manages to capture the awkwardness of middle school with grace and humor. There were some actual laugh-out-loud parts. She definitely understands middle school, with all its ups and downs. And it was delightful to read a book where the parents weren’t bad or sick or dead.

It’s definitely an excellent read.

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