Today I would like to tell you about Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Checkouts: Not owned by the library
Typical reader: Serious readers interested in other cultures, and fans of Ms. Abdel-Fattah’s work

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Hayaat lives in Bethlehem, where her family was forced to move after their home was destroyed to make way for the Wall the occupying Israelis built through their hometown.  Her grandmother becomes ill, and her confession of wishing to touch the soil of her old home in West Jerusalem before she dies inspires Hayaat and her Christian friend Samy to courageously – and a bit recklessly – journey to the city to scoop up a jar of the soil.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

 I had previously read and loved Does My Head Look Big in This? and Ten Things I Hate about Me by the same author, so it was a bit natural for me to be pulled toward another teen novel by this talented writer.  While those two books were set in Australia and featured two Muslim girls coping with and accepting their heritage and religion in different ways, this one is located in the tumultuous area of occupied Palestine.  The average American teen is not going to relate to Hayaat and her life’s ordeals as they might to Amal or Jamie, the protagonists of the other books, who are pretty much just like them.

Does that make this book any less accessible?  No.  The writing is awesome, the characters complex, and the adventures will keep you on the edge of your seat, worried about Hayaat and Samy as they navigate the treacherous roads from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, through checkpoints and past Israeli soldiers, without the proper documentation to enter the city that’s holy to three major world religions and carved up by politics.  Will they succeed in getting the soil for Hayaat’s grandmother?  Will they be caught and imprisoned?

There’s definitely an agenda to the book – and that is to educate teens and young adults (and whoever else might pick up the novel) about life in Palestine under the Israeli occupation.  It is also definitely a story about people of different faiths being able to work together.  Hayaat is Muslim; Samy is Christian; they are helped along the way by Israeli-American peace activists David and Mali, as well as other adults of all backgrounds.  Above all, it is a story about hope.  As Hayaat muses at the end of the tale, “I know … that in the end we are all of us only human beings who laugh the same, and that one day the world will realize that we simply want to live as a free people, with hope and dignity and purpose.”

I’d like to see this book paired up with the older novel One More River by Lynne Reid Banks, about a Canadian girl who moves with her parents to Israel and experiences the Six-Day War in the 1960s.  Those two together would make a good literary study for students – say, in middle school – to learn about the Middle Eastern conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.