Middle East YA Recommendations

~ posted by Ruth

There are a number of books that deal with the lives and struggles of the peoples of the Middle East that are most appropriate for young adults in high school–and adults of all ages.  Some are more adult-themed, like the memoir When I Was a Soldier, the true-life experiences of a young woman serving her compulsory time in the Israeli army, while others wrestle with complex moral issues that require a maturity beyond early adolescence.  The following books provide differing points of view, life experiences, and hard truths.  And all are written with incredible grace and compassion.

Tasting the Sky:  A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat

Barakat eloquently tells the story of her childhood under occupation during the Six-Day War and the time that follows.  The vignettes of her growing up are told in a way that brings us there, as she shares her experiences, her love for her family, culture, country, and home.  The stories are from her young years, but the memoir is book-ended by two moving letters written by the teen-aged Ibtisam.  Her life as a writer is also foretold in her early childhood experiences learning the alphabet and falling in love with chalk.  An important addition to the literature in helping youth–and adults–to understand the Middle East.


When I Was a Soldier:  A Memoir by Valerie Zanatti

This is the riveting story of one girl’s experience in the Israeli army.  A contemporary girl, she has ups and down with her boyfriend, adventures with her friends, studies and shops and cooks with friends and family.  Though she knows her compulsory service is right around the corner, nothing prepares her for the realities and dangers of life in the army when it’s her turn.  Valerie Zanatti draws readers in with her fresh voice, and descriptions both of her ordeal, and the excitement of her two years and the friendships she makes.  There are also compelling glimpses of her own conflicted emotions about the Occupation in Palestine.


A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird

This novel tells the story o f12-year-old Karim Aboudi and his family, residents of Palestine in Ramallah.  Karim and his friends love to play soccer to escape from the difficult and frightening curfews, searches, school closings, and neighbor’s injuries.  He and friends from his neighborhood and from the refuge camps clear “a little piece of land” to play and practice their sport, and Karim is trapped in an abandoned car after curfew.  I appreciate the way Karim is portrayed:  a boy who loves his family, experiences defiance and rebellion, and is torn about the  different factions among his friends and their response to the Occupation.  A well-written and historically accurate picture that is relevant for all ages to understand the hardships of life under the Palestinian Occupation.


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