Novel is a powerful introduction to Afghanistan

What’s behind the veil? Washington author Trent Reedy has crafted a powerful book that gives middle grade readers an inside look into the daily life of Afghan girls.

I don’t want to give any secrets away, but Zulaikha, the main character in Reedy’s book “Words in the Dust,” uses her chador to hide a cleft palate, a birth defect that is likely to ruin her life as a young Afghan teenager. Nobody will want to marry her and she’ll be at her stepmother’s mercy for the rest of her life. Zulaikha’s older sister Zeynab seems to have a better fate because she is so beautiful, but both girls are trapped in a society dominated by patriarchy and oppression.

My kids and I have been reading a lot of books about Islam this month and “Words in the Dust” is one of my favorites. What makes it even more heart wrenching is that Zulaikha and Zeynab are based on real-life people Reedy met while serving in Afghanistan. In the Author’s Note, Reedy describes how National Guardsman pooled their money together to arrange surgery for a young girl named Zulaikha who had a cleft palate. Helping her wasn’t even part of their mission, but the Americans did it anyway.

“Words in the Dust” is a book that is very difficult to put down. My son stayed up until midnight to finish reading it.

I sincerely hope that teachers across America bring this book into their classrooms. Perhaps two other Washington educators, Sarah Collinge and Bethany Robinson, will consider adding “Words in the Dust” to their CIA Reading Program. It would provide rich text for meaningful discussions.

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