I won this ARC copy of Words in the Dust from the Goodreads Firstreads giveaway program.
Zulaikha lives in modern Afghanistan, when the Taliban have been brought down and the Americans are still making progress in her country. She lives with her Baba (father), her Madar (mother...but not her birth mother), brothers and sister. Her father and older brother are welders and work hard to provide for the family. Zulaikha would live a very normal life...except for one thing. Her mouth. Her ugly, cleft lip, her twisted teeth, and her disfigured nose. But then the Americans show up, offering a free surgery to fix Zulaikha's mouth. And her sister, Zeynab, might be married to a man of wealth and prestige. Could Zulaikha get the happy ending she and Zeynab had always dreamed about since their Madar-jan died?
I fell in love with this book from the opening words. Literally. "I traced the letters in the dust with my finger, spelling out my name: Zulaikha"
But after that, the story blossoms into a whole world, the world of life in Afghanistan in the aftermath of a war, the world of an every-day-life Afghanistan family. The culture in this is so rich, the characters so well-developed, that you cannot help but believe that it is real.
This is Trent Reedy's first novel, and he did a most excellent job. Telling from Zulaikha's perspective could have been hard, but Reedy was talented enough to pull it off with incredibly smooth writing, characters that grow, a setting that is so different, and hardships that almost everyone can relate to.
Favorite character: It's a tie between the sisters, Zulaikha and Zeynab. I loved Meena for her part in Zulaikha's life; and even though I hated her guts, I thought the girls step-mother had a very important role.
Favorite aspects: The way Zulaikha interacts with her family...she is truly an amazing girl. And the way the reader watches Zulaikha grow is just beautiful... I honestly felt like I was growing with her, every step of the way. The poems were so beautiful and so was the way Zulaikha related to the characters in the poems.
One word to sum this book up: I would have to say a few words: sweet, heartbreaking, and lovely. Trent Reedy really has pulled off something amazing here and I can't wait to see whose story he tells next! (This story was based off a girl named Zulaikha who the writer met while serving in Afghanistan who had a cleft lip. The Americans fixed it and he swore to her that he would tell her story... If that isn't a touching story, I don't know what is.)
Recommended to ages 12 and up. Click to read my favorite quotes from Words in the Dust.