Where the streets had a name by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Friday, October 16, 2009

"I need to see Sitti Zeynab one last time. To know if I will have the courage to go ahead with my plan. The two nurses look frazzled and smile wearily at me. 'We must leave now,' they say in urgent tones. 'I won't be long,' I reassure them and I jump up onto the back of the ambulance.

"I can smell the air of her village, pure and scented. I can see her village as though it were Bethlehem itself. I can smell the almond trees. Hear my heels click on the courtyard tiles. See myself jumping two steps at a time down the limestone stairs. I can see Sitti Zeynab sitting in the front porch of the house. I only have to remember that walk through her memories and I know I can make my promise. I've already lost once. I refuse to lose again. 'Stay alive,' I whisper. 'And you shall touch that soil again.'"
Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat's best friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.

But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.

The Middle East is such a rare setting to see in books for teenagers, and I found this to be such an interesting, intelligent and thought-provoking book that also managed to be funny, despite such heavy content. Hayaat was a likeable protagonist, and I really felt as I was reading her need to save her grandmother.

I really enjoyed one of Randa Abdel-Fattah's earlier novels Does My Head Look Big In This?, which I think is a really wonderful book, but it is dramatically different from Where the streets had a name which seems to me a more mature novel, even though the central character is younger. It's such a real novel; to me, it felt as Hayaat and her family could really exist. There is so much about politics and history in this book, but it never seems forced. It's fascinating and heart-breaking at once.

Where the streets had a name is definitely a book that I would love to see being studied in schools, or at least on some recommended reading lists. So often you see on the news things that are occurring in the middle east, and it's so impersonal most of the time, not really a thing you think about for more than a moment or two and I think Where the streets had a name shows the reality of life in a warzone, and it's such a touching and outstanding novel. A must-read.
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