Nadia’s family is forced to flee their home in Aleppo, Syria, when the Arab Spring sparks a civil war in this timely coming-of-age novel from award-winning author N.H. Senzai.
Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.
Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.
It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Animal cruelty, Harsh realities of wars
Booklist starred (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 4-7. Nadia is enjoying the best day of her life as her friends and loved ones are gathered around her, ready to sing “Happy Birthday,” when news arrives of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire to protest harassment and corruption of government officials in Tunisia. Nadia is not aware, but the elders in her family look on as the protests of the Tunisian Revolution begin to grow and spread into the Arab Spring, which soon finds its way to Nadia’s doorstep. As her family attempts to flee to Turkey and reunite with her father, their home is bombed and Nadia is left behind. With her cat, Mishmish, and the help of an old, mysterious man—Ammo Mazen—Nadia begins the journey. Flashbacks of Nadia’s life before the war are interspersed with those detailing her struggles to find her father. Nadia gains courage and trust throughout her journey, thanks to her companions, all while struggling to understand why there is such sadness and unfairness in this world. Filled with kindness and hope, but also with the harsh realities of the horrors of war, this heartbreaking book is a necessary reminder of what many people live through every day.
Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2017)
Senzai (Ticket to India, 2015, etc.) tells the story of 14-year-old Nadia’s narrow escape from the ancient city of Aleppo in war-torn Syria as she desperately seeks her family, who accidentally left her behind.Two years into Syria’s civil war, the many armed rebel groups and the government forces are descending on Aleppo. Traumatized since her bomb injury, Nadia is pulled from under her bed as her family prepares to leave their home for a safer place. Although a relative has been assigned to monitor her, another bomb falls as they are exiting, and in the confusion, Nadia is left behind. Now she must recover from the shock and rely on her instincts, a seemingly kind old man she meets, and, ultimately, her own intelligence to make it out of Aleppo alive and find her family at the Turkish border. All of this she manages to do in fairly short order, with a series of rather abrupt changes in her psychological state. Through Nadia’s conversations with other characters and through extensive exposition, readers learn about the impressively vast and complex history of Aleppo and of Syria. The Arab Spring is also treated in detail. Nadia’s flashbacks give insight to life under dictatorship and the drastic changes introduced by war. Arabic words are italicized once, then printed in Roman type. Despite narrative hitches, a valuable introduction to the issues plaguing modern Syria and the costs of war in historically rich locales. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
About the Author
N.H. Senzai is the author of Shooting Kabul, which was critically acclaimed and on numerous award lists. Publishers Weekly called it “hard hitting, emotionally wrenching.” Her second book, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. She is also the author of Ticket to India and Escape from Aleppo.
Ms. Senzai lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. Her website is www.nhsenzai.com.
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