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4.1 29
by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Fourteen-year-old Liyana Abboud would rather not have to change her life...especially now that she has been kissed, for the very first time and quite by surprise, by a boy named Jackson.

But when her parents announce that Liyana's family is moving from St. Louis, Missouri, to Jerusalem -- to the land where her father was born -- Liyana's whole world shifts.


Fourteen-year-old Liyana Abboud would rather not have to change her life...especially now that she has been kissed, for the very first time and quite by surprise, by a boy named Jackson.

But when her parents announce that Liyana's family is moving from St. Louis, Missouri, to Jerusalem -- to the land where her father was born -- Liyana's whole world shifts.

What does Jerusalem hold for Liyana? A grandmother, a Sitti, she has never met, for one. A history much bigger than she is. Visits to the West Bank village where her aunts and uncles live. Mischief. Old stone streets that wind through time and trouble. Opening doors, dark jail cells, a new feeling for peace, and Omer...the intriguing stranger whose kisses replace the one she lost when she moved across the ocean.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This soul-stirring novel about the Abbouds, an Arab American family, puts faces and names to the victims of violence and persecution in Jerusalem today. Believing the unstable situation in that conflict-ridden city has improved, 14-year-old Liyana's family moves from St. Louis, Mo., to her father's homeland. However, from the moment the Abbouds are stopped by Jewish customs agents at the airport, they face racial prejudice and discord. Initially, Nye (Never in a Hurry) focuses on the Abbouds' handling of conflicting cultural norms between American and Arab values as they settle into their new home (e.g., Liyana's father, Poppy, while forbidding her to wear "short" shorts, reacts in anger toward a relative who asks for Liyana's hand in marriage). Then Liyana tests her family's alleged unprejudiced beliefs when she befriends Omer, a Jewish boy. She wants to introduce him to her father (who taught her, "Does it make sense that any God would choose some people and leave the others out?... God's bigger than that!"), but finds she must first remind him of his own words. Nye expertly combines the Abbouds' gradual acceptance of Omer with a number of heart-wrenching episodes of persecution (by the different warring factions) against her friends and family to convey the extent to which the Arab-Israeli conflict infiltrates every aspect of their lives. Nye's climactic ending will leave readers pondering, long after the last page is turned, why Arabs, Jews, Greeks and Armenians can no longer live in harmony the way they once did. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Talk about culture shock: fourteen-year-old Liyana is not too pleased about leaving St. Louis to live in her Arab father's homeland, taking up residence in Jerusalem. Her new life has restrictions as she faces the traditions and prohibitions of her extended Palestinian family. To further complicate matters, Liyana has a Jewish boyfriend. In this first novel by poet Naomi Shihab Nye, the conflict between Arabs and Jews is vividly depicted through characters whom readers will admire and come to care about.
Children's Literature - Michelle H. Martin
Habibi is a book in the midst of an identity crisis. It can't decide if it wants to be a political novel about Arab/Israeli conflicts, a teen romance, a series of vignettes on loosely related events in one character's life, or a book of poetry that incidentally contains a novel as well. Because the text is, unfortunately, all of the above, its entertainment value is severely limited. Fifteen-year-old Liyana Abboud, her brother Rafik, and her American mother move from St. Louis to her Arab father's home in Jerusalem just after Liyana receives her first kiss. While the novel contains many interesting episodes about Liyana's life among her Arab relatives and Israeli friends, the novel's primary conflict does not surface until more than half way through the plot. Its climax is weak, and too little tension is maintained throughout to keep readers involved. Since the end of the book feels no different from its rambling chapters, the last page takes readers by surprise and leaves them wondering about the book's purpose. The wonderful, poetic introductions to each chapter may be the novel's only redeeming feature.
VOYA - Marcia Mann
Liyanna Abboud is fourteen when her parents announce that the family is moving from St. Louis, the only home Liyanna has ever known, to Jerusalem, her father's birthplace. The Abbouds are welcomed by her father's sprawling extended Arab family in their West Bank village. New family, country, languages, and customs do not seem to faze Liyana nor her brother, Rafik, much. It is the lack of peace and the lack of empathy between the Jews and Arabs that are the main sources of angst for Liyanna and her family and friends. This story is told mainly from sensitive, introspective Liyanna's point of view, with a few disrupting shifts to those of her parents, Rafik, and her grandmother. This shifting viewpoint is a sign of the obtrusiveness of the author's agenda, as the question of just who has the "right" god is pondered. Although this heavy-handed approach might not be obvious to younger teens, a less didactic tone and more well-rounded characters would improve both the quality of the book and the reader's ability to enjoy it. However, glimpses of everyday life in a holy city and of how Arabs live in present-day Israel provide an interesting backdrop, and Liyana's vaguely mystical Arab grandmother is simply charming. Habibi is an Arabic word meaning "darling" and the oft-used term of endearment Liyanna and Rafik's parents use for their children. VOYA Codes: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9An important first novel from a distinguished anthologist and poet. When Liyana's doctor father, a native Palestinian, decides to move his contemporary Arab-American family back to Jerusalem from St. Louis, 14-year-old Liyana is unenthusiastic. Arriving in Jerusalem, the girl and her family are gathered in by their colorful, warmhearted Palestinian relatives and immersed in a culture where only tourists wear shorts and there is a prohibition against boy/girl relationships. When Liyana falls in love with Omer, a Jewish boy, she challenges family, culture, and tradition, but her homesickness fades. Constantly lurking in the background of the novel is violence between Palestinian and Jew. It builds from minor bureaucratic annoyances and humiliations, to the surprisingly shocking destruction of grandmother's bathroom by Israeli soldiers, to a bomb set off in a Jewish marketplace by Palestinians. It exacts a reprisal in which Liyana's friend is shot and her father jailed. Nye introduces readers to unforgettable characters. The setting is both sensory and tangible: from the grandmother's village to a Bedouin camp. Above all, there is Jerusalem itself, where ancient tensions seep out of cracks and Liyana explores the streets practicing her Arabic vocabulary. Though the story begins at a leisurely pace, readers will be engaged by the characters, the romance, and the foreshadowed danger. Poetically imaged and leavened with humor, the story renders layered and complex history understandable through character and incident. Habibi succeeds in making the hope for peace compellingly personal and concrete...as long as individual citizens like Liyana's grandmother Sitti can say, "I never lost my peace inside."Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Liyana Abboud, 14, and her family make a tremendous adjustment when they move to Jerusalem from St. Louis. All she and her younger brother, Rafik, know of their Palestinian father's culture come from his reminiscences of growing up and the fighting they see on television. In Jerusalem, she is the only "outsider" at an Armenian school; her easygoing father, Poppy, finds himself having to remind her—often against his own common sense—of rules for "appropriate" behavior; and snug shops replace supermarket shopping—the malls of her upbringing are unheard of. Worst of all, Poppy is jailed for getting in the middle of a dispute between Israeli soldiers and a teenage refugee. In her first novel, Nye (with Paul Janeczko, I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You, 1996, etc.) shows all of the charms and flaws of the old city through unique, short-story-like chapters and poetic language. The sights, sounds, and smells of Jerusalem drift through the pages and readers glean a sense of current Palestinian-Israeli relations and the region's troubled history. In the process, some of the passages become quite ponderous while the human story—Liyana's emotional adjustments in the later chapters and her American mother's reactions overall—fall away from the plot. However, Liyana's romance with an Israeli boy develops warmly, and readers are left with hope for change and peace as Liyana makes the city her very own.

Product Details

Simon Pulse
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Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Are dreams thinner at thirty-three thousand feet?

When their plane landed at Tel Aviv, Poppy was talking so fast, Liyana couldn't pay close attention to details. Normally she liked to notice trees first — their leaves and shapes — when she arrived in a new place. Then she'd focus on plants, signs, and, gradually, people. Liyana believed in working up to people. But Poppy leaned across the aisle jabbering so fast, she could barely notice the color of the sky.

"When we go through the checkpoint for passports, let me do the talking, okay? We don't let them stamp our passports here. They stamp a little piece of paper instead. And don't leave anything on the plane. Look around! Did you check under the seats? We'll go to the hotel first and rest awhile, then we'll call the village. My family will come in to see us. They won't expect us to travel all the way out to visit them today. Make sure you have everything. Did you get those pistachios? What about that book Rafik was reading?"

"Poppy's nervous," her mother whispered to Liyana. "He hasn't been here in five years."

He was making Liyana nervous, too. Jitterbug bazooka. He didn't like it when she said foolish words lined up, like mousetrap taffy-puller. That's what she did inside her head when she got nervous. Poppy hadn't told his family their exact arrival time on purpose. "They don't need to come to the airport and make a big scene," he said.

Powder-puff peanut. She'd be good. She wouldn't talk at Customs. She wouldn't say, Yes I'm carrying my worst American habits in the zipper pouch of my suitcase and I plan to let them loose in your streets. There's a kiss in there, too! I'll never tell.

Right away, the Israeli agents singled Liyana's family out and made them stand off to the side in a troublemaker line with two men who looked like international zombies. Other travelers — sleek Spaniards, Irish nuns — zoomed right through. The women soldiers at the gate seemed meaner than the men. They all wore dull khaki uniforms. Big guns swung on straps across their backs.

Poppy had said this singling-out treatment often happened to Palestinians, even Palestinian-Americans, but one of Poppy's Palestinian friends had had a better arrival recently, when an Israeli customs agent actually said to him, "Welcome home." Poppy said it depended on what good or bad thing had just happened in the news.

Five years before, when Poppy had traveled here with his friend Mustafa, a Palestinian-American psychiatrist, the customs officer held them up so long at the gate, checking every corner of their suitcases and interrogating them so severely, that Mustafa leaned over, kissed the officer on the cheek, and said, "Let's just be friends, okay?" The Israeli man had been so stunned to be kissed that he waved them both through. And the two of them laughed all the way to Jerusalem.

Today the guard chose his words carefully. "Why are you planning to stay here?" Poppy had written "indefinitely" on the length of their visit when he filled out the papers on the plane. The papers were so boring. Liyana thought of more interesting questions they might ask. What's the best word you ever made in Scrabble?

She heard her father explain, in an unusually high-pitched tone, "I happen to be from here, and I am moving back. I have a job waiting for me at the hospital. I am introducing my family to my country and to their relatives. If you will notice, I have taken care of all the necessary paperwork at the embassy in the United States." He jingled some coins in his pocket. Liyana worried for him. He only jingled coins when he was upset.

The airport guards checked through their suitcases and backpacks extremely carefully. They lifted each item high in the air and stared at it. They wheeled the empty bags away on a cart to be x-rayed. They placed things back in a jumble. Liyana's flowered raggedy underpants fell to the floor and she scooped them up, embarrassed. The guards did not care for her violin. They looked inside its sound hole and shook it, hard. They jabbered fast in Hebrew.

Rafik tried to set his watch by a giant clock on the wall. He said, too loudly, "This airport seems ugly," and their mother shushed him. It was true. The walls were totally gray. There were no welcome posters, no murals, no candy stands. Three other stern-looking guards moved in closer to Liyana's family. Did they think they were going to start a riot or something? The guards looked ready to jump on them. Liyana felt a knot tightening in her stomach.

Maybe one reason their father wanted them to be quiet is they had trouble calling this country "Israel" to begin with. Why? Because Poppy had always, forever and ever, called it Palestine. Why wouldn't he? That's what he called it as a little boy. It was "Palestine" for the first years of his life and that's how most Arabs still referred to it to this day. Maybe he was afraid his family would slip.

In the airplane, somewhere over the Mediterranean, Liyana had whispered to Rafik, "Too bad the country namers couldn't have made some awful combo word from the beginning, like Is-Pal or Pal-Is, to make everybody happy."

Rafik said, "Huh?"

"But hardly anybody there has been pals yet."

"Are you going crazy?"

"And Pal-Is sounds like palace — but they don't even have a king. Do you think they would have been better off with kings?"

Later when the guard at the customs gate pointed at Rafik and asked Liyana weirdly, "Is this your brother?" as if he might be a stranger she'd just picked up in the air, she was moved to say, "He is my pal," and they both started giggling, which made Poppy glare at them worriedly.

The guard sighed. He couldn't find any reason to detain them further. He shoved the passports back at Poppy. "You may go on."

Copyright © 1997 by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Habibi 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Naomi Shihab Nye is a great frienf of mine and is an exelent writer! I really recomend this to girls from ages 10-20! Thanks for reading this and hope you found this helpful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall- Habibi was a great book, even though I wanted MORE of the ending. I had to read this book in my class, and for once, the book wasn't so bad. This book was interesting, funny at times, romantic, and also educational in a way. I didn't feel like I was forced to read this book, and read it like any other. It was a page-turner at spots, and okay at others. Overall, I recommend it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 7th brade for my S.S class.Overall I would recommend this book for a rainy day when you're bored.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed this book, and maybe for certain people it will be boring but if you enjoy good writing i highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so completely boring.
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Euphoria_May More than 1 year ago
This book was very west side story. When I first read it I thought it was long, because it felt long. Didn't like the ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Habibi was a soul-stirring novel that gives a reader all the sweet richness of a Mediterranean dessert! Overall, it was an awe-inspiring tale that forces you into emotions, meanings, symbols, questions and answers that you never would¿ve thought of. It conveyed the message: things aren¿t always as they seem unexpected treasures can be found anywhere and everywhere. It was everything that any person of any age would love! =) I LOVE HABIBI by Naomi Shihab Nye! You should read it! I recommend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, I read 'a middle schooler's' review and even though I didn't read the book, I disagree with him/her. First of all, you said that 'instead, it's about isreal and arab people' and yeah, of course it is. Since it's set in Jeruselem, you can't just talk about butterflies and puppy dogs. It's about Arab and Isreali people not getting along, and that girl Habiba getting over that to befriend that one guy. Second, you said its not something 10-13 year olds would want to read about. Unless you seem to know every one of those people's opinion, you have no right to state that. That also shows that you don't want to read about stuff that really happens in the world, which is a bit shallow. No, it is VERY shallow. There's no rule about a book being religious 'unless you got something against religion, but that's YOUR problem, not the authors' and i'm pretty sure you're too young to even understand what 'unneccesary content' means or you have a very vague meaning of it. It might be something YOU don't enjoy reading about, but this is LIFE. And it's happening. To people even younger than you. And the author is simply trying to inform you about it so we won't be as ignorant of the world as we are now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fifteen year old Liyana just got her first kiss and has everything going for her. A nice boy who likes her, an incredible best friend, and a great family, until her dad makes a big announcement. Their whole family is moving back to Palestine. The long drive from the airport gives Liyana a taste of her ancestral homeland, Palestine. Liyana is only starting to know what it feels like to live in Palestine. It isn¿t until Liyana finds out that her father is in jail and her friend has been shot that she realizes what kind of place she¿s living in. It¿s taking Liyana a long time to adjust until she meets Omer a Jewish boy. Their friendship is forbidden but when they start to date, it¿s even harder to keep it a secret. Liyana¿s long hard journey will open up other¿s eyes to realize what it¿s like to live in a world completely different than yours. This story is likely to attract teens, especially people who have moved outside their own culture. Author Naomi Shihab Nye shows what it¿s like to live in such a different culture. She can relate, being Palestinian-American and expresses her thoughts throughout Habibi. She is trying to suggest that not all Jews and Palestinians let their culture get in between them. ¿You will need to be brave. There are hard words waiting in people¿s mouths to be spoken,¿ Liyana¿s grandmother states, encouraging both Liyana and readers to stand up for what they believe in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My personal opinion is that Habibi is a sappy, poorly writtten, boring novel. This book is not what it says to be which is a novel about a teenage girl's transition from her home to Isreal and how she befrieds a jewish boy. Instead, it is about the conflict between Isreal and Arab peoples, and i don't feel that is what people of our age group (10-13) want to read about. Habibi is extremelly religious, includes unneccesary content, and is overloaded with metaphores and crazy puns. If one should still have the desire to read, go ahead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the beginning was a little bit boring, it became more interesting. I liked how Liyana had a solution to every problem in Palestine (except the war, of course). There were many lessons that she learned.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing book which leads the reader through the twists and turns of the confusing lifestyle of an average Jerusalamanian teenage girl.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Habibi was a great book that taught me about life in Jerusalem. I recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When she moves to Israel, I can jsut feel what she is feeling in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. She is lebanese, i am lebanese. I connected with her on so many levels. Nye is a fantastic author in her imagery, culture, and diction. Awsome book, highly recommend it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great! It talked about the Arab/Jewish situation, but it also emphasized everyday life and humor. It was very down-to-earth. Ms. Nye is an excellent writer. Don't think you'll like it? You're in for a surprise!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When Liyana get's her first kiss, wich nobody in her family knows, Liyana was very excited but thier family decides to move to Israel because her father was born there and wants his kids to know his family and culture in Israel. Liyana gets homesick until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is jewish and her parents are Arabs. How can she convince her parents to be a friend of Omer and how will she call this place, HOME?