Words in the Dust

The Christophers’ Sarah Holinski shares her review of the Christopher Award-winning book for tweens, “Words in the Dust” by Trent Reedy:

Thirteen-year-old Zulaikha Frouton is an Afghani girl who was born to stand out in an unfortunately painful way—she has a noticeably disfigured cleft lip. Having lost her birth mother at a young age to the brutality of the Taliban, Zulaikha has formed a strong bond with her older sister Zeynab, who is sixteen. She also has an elder brother and two younger half-brothers by her father’s second wife.

Zulaikha more or less loves her family, but she struggles with the bullying she contends with on a daily basis as a result of her lip. Besides her sister, her only comfort is tracing words in the dust she remembers learning from her late mother. A chance encounter with her mother’s old teacher, Meena, gives her hope that the words she knows can grow into sentences and, consequently, knowledge—a powerful gift to any Afghani girl whose own family expects her to grow up illiterate. Additionally, the American soldiers, with their sophisticated tanks and doctors, offer this young girl the opportunity to have surgery that will fix her lip.

Amidst this whirlwind of positive change, Zulaikha also has to deal with the consequences of more negative events, such as her sister’s marriage to an older, mercenary man. Ultimately, however, Zulaikha must decide what traditions from her family she wishes to keep, and which she wishes to create for herself.

This is an illuminating story that sheds some much needed light on the plight of young girls and women alike in Afghanistan. Reedy knows well of what he writes, for Zulaikha’s character is based on a girl he knew while serving in the Iowa Army National Guard in Afghanistan. The tragic fate of her sister is also, sadly, derived from true events. Mr. Reedy’s story leaves its readers with the powerful message that ignorance is an enemy to all races—and that only with knowledge, love and faith can one hope to combat this formidable foe.

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