Zulaikhu, an Afghan teen, was born with a cleft palate. She has been the butt of cruel jokes from the enighborhood boys and pitying glances from the shopkeepers and even family members. In WORDS IN THE DUST by Trent Reedy (Scholastic, AAL 2011), readers meet Zulaikhu and her family. Her sister is promised to someone in marriage; her younger brothers are pretty much pains to keep track of, and her stepmother sometimes treats her as a servant. But Zulaikhu somehow manages to sustain herself. One day, her life changes when she meets a woman who offers to teach her to read and write. And then the best news of all: the Americans have offered to repair her cleft palate. Could Zulaikhu's life be about to change? <535>
Reedy offers some insight into the day to day life for Afghans living somewhat uncomfortably with the Americans who are occupying their country. He allows the characters to voice the sentiments, varied as they are, about the Taliban, the new government, and the odd customs of the American soldiers. Zulaikhu and her family are not archetypes or stereotypes; they are salt of the earth Afghans who are trying their best to live a good life. There are precious few books, especially for teens, set in this country. Reedy's offering is one that needs to be shared.