Aug 23, 2013

August Genreflecting: Review: Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

Genreflecting wordle

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family's Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers, and speak a language she can't understand.

It isn't until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?

From Goodreads

Liyana has a valid reason to feel like an outsider in so many ways. An Arab-American who grew up in the very modern & liberal United States is obviously going to have some adjustment issues when moving to a more rural & structured life in Palestine. There are so many expectations to be met and protocols to be followed in a world where your whole life can be in upheaval at any given time. What's most important is how each situation is handled. As she begins to navigate the slippery corridors of social interactions, Liyana begins to find herself and more importantly her position in her new world.

Considering this book's age (originally published in 1997) the story itself is still quite relevant for today's struggling teens. While some things have gotten better, and some worse, in the Palestine/Israel area, one thing remains the same: people must continue to live their lives. Time stops for no man & it certainly doesn't stop for children. This book gives us a small glimpse into a pretty typical experience for people who embark on the adventure of living in a foreign country or culture.

What really has an impact on the reader are the responses to certain situations. It's in those moments that we learn so much about the culture, story, & character(s). Watching Liyana spend time with her grandmother, with whom she can't communicate, is important because her grandmother is trying to impart their heritage onto her. With each passing scenario, we see Liyana wrestle not only with her feelings, but also with her desires. These little interactions really drive the narrative and help to focus the story on Liyana.

This book settles nicely into the subgenre based around one's own culture. While there are several represented in the book (Arab, Jewish, Armenian, and more) what we're really attuned to is Liyana's role within her own culture and how that impacts her interactions with the other groups. 

Be sure to come back next week when I host a giveaway & review Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins!

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