Zulaikha is a young Afghani girl living in a small post-Taliban village. She was born with a cleft lip and her mouth is malformed as well. Boys and even adults in the village can be cruel, calling her 'camel mouth.' Since her mother's death at the hands of the Taliban, Zulaikha and her sister Zeynab work hard at daily domestic chores under the orders of their father's second wife Malehka, who is pregnant. While visiting the market, Zulaikha meets an older woman, Meena, who knew Zulaikha's mother and who offers to teach Zulaikha to read and write through ancient Afghani poetry. Zulaikha must keep these lessons a secret as women in Afghanistan have not previously been allowed to learn and her father is a traditionalist. American soldiers arrive, bringing money and jobs to rebuild Afghanistan. They are not trusted by the village as they previously arrived with guns and bombs, but Zulaikha's father is one of the lucky ones who is hired to help build a school. When the Americans offer to fix Zulaikha's mouth, she cannot believe her good fortune, but a pretty mouth will not relieve her difficult living conditions. Zuliakha must work hard to do that for herself. This story is an inspiration as Zulaikha learns to stand up for herself, and in so doing, for the women of Afghanistan.
In the Author's Word at the back of the book, Reedy states that his novel is based on the true experiences of Afghanis he encountered while stationed in Afghanistan.
Similar authors: Suzanne Fisher Staples
Similar books: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan;
Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell
Awards nominated: 2014 Rebecca Caudill Nominee
Date read: 5/18/2013