Monday, June 6, 2016

It Ain't so Awful, Falafel

It Ain't so Awful, Falafel
Firoozeh Dumas
Clarion Books, 2016
Grades 5-7
Historical Fiction

Dumas turns from writing the Iranian-American experience for adults to capturing it for the middle grades. Based on her real-life experiences, Dumas traces three years in the life of Zomorod (re-branded as Cindy), as she moves to a new community in California during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the 1970s. Cindy struggles to fit in. After a massive fail at friendship with her horse-loving next door neighbor (also named Cindy), she falls in with a group of smart girls at her new school who become true friends. The girls participate in Girl Scouts together, which is a positive experience for Cindy, whose family is struggling with life in America. Mom knows no English and is depressed from missing her family, not fitting in and feeling lonely. Dad loses his job after the revolution in Iran and a group of Americans are held hostage for no apparent reason. Dad, an engineer, sends out resumes daily, yet cannot even be granted an interview. The prejudice against Cindy's family deepens as hate letters are left on her doorstep, as well as garbage and, even more disturbing, a dead hamster. Cindy's new friends help her to overcome the hatred and feel accepted. After the job hunt seems like a hopeless case and their money is running out Cindy's parents decide to move back to Iran even though there are no longer any rights or freedoms for women in their home country and no guarantee of their personal safety. It takes the condo community in which they live to ban together and help out Cindy's family, allowing them to stay in the United States and at last to feel at home in their new country.

This is the second book in a row I've read this week in which events I have lived through have become historical fiction. Cindy's adolescence mirrors my own from wearing gauchos and using Bonnie Bell Lip-smackers to awkwardness around boys and being underpaid for babysitting. Our experience differs in that I was not Iranian during the American Hostage Crisis and although I remember my family tracking the details, it wasn't as personal for me. Cindy shares the experience of being bi-cultural with many American youngsters and her feelings of not fully belonging in either world will transcend to many readers. Prejudice against Muslim Americans is still very predominate today and, especially with so many Syrian refuge children integrating into many American schools, Cindy's story is extremely relevant. The books covers some serious issues, yet at its heart is also a story about growing up and friendship. Dumas interjects humor throughout the story (my favorite part being the depiction of the horrible visiting cousins from Iran), which keeps the book from becoming too weighted. The chapters are short and the book reads quickly. It moves along nicely and never lags or gets boring. Dumas reveals the truth behind the fiction in an author's note and the story is that much more powerful knowing that much of it is real. An enjoyable and important read for young people, it shows the importance of diversity, the ugliness and unfairness of prejudice, and the power of community.

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