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Words in the Dust

Words in the Dust

5.0 10
by Trent Reedy

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Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her--"Inshallah," God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late


Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her--"Inshallah," God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha--but can she dare to hope they'll come true?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first novel, Reedy, a former soldier in Afghanistan, examines the restrictive experiences of contemporary Afghan girls through sympathetic 13-year-old narrator Zulaikha. Zulaikha's cleft palate makes her an object of ridicule for local merchants, bullies, and even her younger brother. Although Zulaikha's disability often relegates her to a serving and observing role, it allows her more freedom to leave her home than her 15-year-old sister, Zeynab, who will soon wed. Contact outside Zulaikha's family provides compelling insights for Zulaikha, such as her ad hoc education by Meena, a professor who knew and taught Zulaikha's bookish mother (a proclivity that led to her death), and with the American soldiers who offer to operate on her lip and teeth. "Even with the swelling, I looked almost normal. And I had the Americans, as ignorant and wasteful as they were, to thank." Within the family, the evolution of key relationships presents a nuanced look at family dynamics and Afghan culture. Though unsentimental and fraught with tragedy, Reedy's narrative offers hope and will go a long way toward helping readers understand the people behind the headlines. Ages 9–14. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"I love this story -- it leaves no doubt that hope and love speak the same language everywhere." -- Suzanne Fisher Staples, author of Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind

"Both heart-wrenching and timely." -- Kirkus Reviews

"A beautifully written novel that introduces young readers to a fascinating culture." -- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Readers will readily find themselves rooting for Zulaikha in this simply told yet thoughtful story." -- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Zulaikha hides her mouth behind her chador, or shawl, so that people will not see her cleft lip although everyone in her Afghan village knows. Some even call her Donkeyface. She wishes she were beautiful like her older sister, Zaynab. The arrival of an American soldier will change her looks and her life, but not before she discovers her own inner strength. Reedy creates a rich, multi-layered tale of current day Afghanistan. Zulaikha and her sister do not go to school; there is no need, they are told, for their lives will be spent taking care of their husbands, children, and home. Zulaikha, however, recalls lines of poetry and learning the letters of the alphabet from her educated mother who was murdered by the Taliban. When Meena, a friend of her mother, offers to help her learn to read, Zulaikha does so secretly. With no paper on which to write, she practices her letters in the dust on the ground. In the meantime, fifteen-year-old Zaynab is giddy with the knowledge that she is to be wed, even though her future husband is quite a bit older. These inseparable sisters dream of their fairy tale marriages. After her marriage, however, they hardly see one another. Zulaikha's joy over her successful operation is destroyed by the news that her sister has been badly burned. Reedy, who served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, uses his experiences to create this story. The main characters are well developed and the minor characters add to the richness of the story. The beautiful, ancient poetry of the region is contrasted with the denial of education to half the region's population. Reedy has done an excellent job of weaving in everyday life, words in Farsi, and the plight of women and girls. This is a story that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished. It is simultaneously heart-rending and uplifting. In the back of the book there is a pronunciation guide for the Farsi; an author's note on how he came to write this story; information on the epic poem Shahnameh and the story of Yusuf and Zulaikha; and recommended reading for children, young adults, and adults. Katherine Paterson provides the introduction. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
ALAN Review - Barbara A. Ward
Born with a cleft lip, Zulaikha, 13, is no beauty, and she is teased constantly because of her deformity. Even though her days are filled with household chores in her traditional Afghani family, she dreams of having more. At first her dreams are small: maybe one day she will find a husband, and she and her beloved sister can be together. Hope blossoms when American soldiers arrange surgery to fix her face; then she meets Meena, a former professor who teaches her to read and write. As Zulaikha slowly embraces the possibilities that lie ahead, her beautiful older sister's marriage to a careless older man leads to unnecessary tragedy. The poetic language and details about Afghani customs provide a glimpse into a world where much is changing while much stays the same. Back matter includes a glossary, an author's note, and suggested reading lists, offering more for interested readers. Reviewer: Barbara A. Ward
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Zulaikha's life in Afghanistan is not easy. She is teased constantly for a facial deformity and although the Taliban is no longer in power, it has violently taken her mother from her, and the 13-year-old is left keeping house for a busy, traditional father and his bad-tempered wife. She is trapped by the confines of her culture as well as by her own fears, but things begin to change when she meets a mysterious woman who wants to work with her on her writing and teach her about poetry. When American soldiers roll into town and offer her the chance to fix her cleft palate, Zulaikha allows herself to wish for a better and different future. Reedy was inspired by a girl he met during his tour of duty in Afghanistan, and Zulaikha's character is based loosely on her experiences. Infused with poetry, and wrought with hardship, the story gives a bleak, but ultimately hopeful, portrayal of girlhood in Afghanistan. It is full of hard truths, painful lessons, beautiful human interaction, and the promise of possibility.—Sharon Senser McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews

A contemporary 13-year-old Muslim teen's life changes profoundly when American forces arrive in her war-torn Afghanistan village. Born with a cleft palate, Zulaikha's tormented by boys calling her "donkey-face," adults averting their eyes and an insensitive stepmother. With marriage unlikely, Zulaikha secretly learns to read and write, emulating her birth mother, who was murdered by the Taliban for keeping books. As the Americans build a village school, Zulaikha's father wins a construction contract and arranges a marriage for her beloved sister with a wealthy older man. When the Americans fly her to Kandahar for successful reconstructive surgery, Zulaikha finally looks and feels normal until family tragedy strikes and she realizes "normal" isn't everything. Drawing from personal experiences in Afghanistan, Reedy creates a multidimensional heroine who introspectively reflects on how to "be patient enough to forget all the ugliness and focus on . . . good things" in an oppressive culture where women are undervalued. An inside look at an ordinary Afghanistan family trying to survive in extraordinary times, it is both heart-wrenching and timely. (pronunciation guide, glossary, author's note, notes on Persian poetry, recommended reading) (Fiction. 9-13)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Trent Reedy is the author of Divided We Fall, Burning Nation, and The Last Full Measure, a trilogy about the second American Civil War; If You're Reading This; Stealing Air; and Words in the Dust, which was the winner of the Christopher Medal and an Al Roker's Book Club pick on the Today Show. Trent and his family live near Spokane, Washington. Please visit his website at www.trentreedy.com.

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Words in the Dust 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Soldier72 More than 1 year ago
As one of the lucky few to receive an advance copy of Trent's novel, I cannot recommend it enough. Not only is his story touching and beautifully told, but as someone who had the honor of serving with the author in the war in Afghanistan, it is painfully accurate in its portrayal of life in this windswept and tragic land. "Words in the Dust" is a fictional account of real life events. I hope and pray that this lovely story will touch the hearts of people around the world and help us all to realize the importance of helping the Afghan people to regain their place in the world as members of a proud, peaceful and prosperous society. Finally, I thank Trent for telling a story in a way many soldiers, such as myself, never could. I will always be proud to call him my friend.
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
Most people want to be loved and accepted by others, in Trent Reedy's novel the protagonist wants to be "normal." Journey with the protagonist and learn the beauty of life when "outsiders" try to make changes to improve the world. This is an emotional tale that readers are sure to enjoy. "Words in the Dust," by Trent Reedy, is well written and has well developed characters with a fascinating storyline. It is sure to hold your attention and give you hope in miracles. A "burden" reveals the glory of human love in the hearts of many of the characters. **Glad to have read this novel, it's inspiring and insightful.
toniFMAMTC More than 1 year ago
This book opened my eyes to several things. Much of it is based on actual people and occurrences. The story is told from the point of view of an Afghani girl with a cleft palate and a desire to attend school. Some parts are interesting looks into a culture different from mine. Other parts are heart breaking. It definitely made me appreciate being born in my country. Words in the Dust should be on your reading list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My moms friend wrote this book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book and this is my fave book!!!FOSHIZZLE
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You almost got what vile ment in a way and she hit my head hard the same way you would knok on a door. Bvm