Author Jacquetta Nammar Feldman’s profound, timely novel about the lives of two American girls impacted by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though not autobiographical, draws from her experiences as the daughter of a Christian Palestinian father who was born and raised in Jerusalem, then immigrated to the United States where the author was born.
Twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury lives in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Detroit and feels safe and at home with people who look like she does. When her parents share the news that her father has a new job and the family will be moving to San Antonio, Texas, Yameen is distressed because she’ll have to leave her best friend, her loving Maronite church community, and all that is familiar.
Little does Yasmeen realize the struggles that lie ahead of her. In her new school, she’s the only Arab student, and a group of popular girls notice her vulnerability and begin to bully her. Soon, Yasmeen wishes that she wasn’t an Arab girl. She only wants to belong. Besides her troubles at school, Yasmeen’s home is filled with tension and sorrow as her father is glued to the TV watching the news as hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians escalate.
When the Khoury family realize that their neighbors across the street are Israelis, and that Yasmeen and their neighbor’s daughter are around the same age, life becomes even more complicated. Though Yasmeen and Ayelet, the Israeli-American girl, meet at the bus stop each day and encounter each other at school, they feel conflicted and separated by their families’ differences.
Yet, school events draw Yasmeen and Ayelet together and they forge a tentative friendship. But when Yasmeen’s grandmother’s house in Jerusalem is bulldozed and destroyed by the Israelis, and the elderly lady comes to San Antonio to live with her family, suspicion and fear escalate once again. Still, proximity and giftedness continue to draw Ayelet and Yasmeen together, and, when they reflect on their friendship—a girl from an Arab Palestinian family and one from a Jewish Israeli family—Ayelet says, “Don’t you think that’s kind of ironic? Israelis and Palestinians? Here we are in America, the land of the free, so we’re finally neighbors.”
Though recommended for children ages 8-12, this compelling, compassionate novel is better suited to children 11 and older. (HarperCollins)
About the Author
Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.