Life in rural Afghanistan is pretty tough for thirteen-year-old Zulaikha, the main character in Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. Born with a cleft lip and teeth that stick straight out, she is constantly teased by the boys in her neighborhood and endures stares every time she goes to the market place. Her older sister, Zeynab, is beautiful, and her strongest supporter. Her real mother is deceased and instead she now has to deal with a crabby, pregnant, stepmother who only cares about having a son. Things start to look up for her when, by chance, she meets an American soldier who says that he has a way that she can get corrective facial surgery at the Army base-and for free! Also, around the same time, she meets a kind literature professor who offers to teach her how to read and write, in hopes that she can maybe attend school one day. However, Zulaikha must juggle all of that with her sister’s upcoming wedding to a not-so-nice older gentleman, as well as problems with the helicopter flight that is supposed to take her to meet the American doctor. Will she have the facial surgery? Does she learn to read and write and eventually attend school? You will have to read the book to find out!
Book reviewed by Julie D., Elementary School Liaison