An American teen visiting her Egyptian grandmother in Cairo witnesses the beginnings of the Arab Spring movement.
After being caught at a wild high school party, Mariam and her best friend, Deanna, are sent to spend the remaining five months of the school year with her conservative grandmother in Egypt. Mariam dreads her grandmother’s legendary strictness: “[F]rom the stories my baba [father] has told me…I would probably have more freedom in jail.” But Deanna, who “loves anything Egyptian,” immediately embraces the adventure. (Deanna’s tastes run toward romance novels featuring stereotypical illustrations of “pseudo-Arab lover boy[s]” on the covers.) Mariam’s initial mockery of her friend’s books later becomes ironic when the plot begins to center more heavily on romantic entanglements than the rebellion against President Hosni Mubarak. By the end of the teens’ stay in Egypt (which ends up being a mere five days), both girls have found boyfriends for themselves and a love match for the grandmother. The timeline makes the many musings on true love more mawkish than believable. Meanwhile, there are so few scenes about the demonstrations in Tahrir Square or meaningful conversations about the political landscape that readers will develop little sense of the historical significance of the real Egyptian rebellion.
This novel may mean well, but it fails to find a balance between romance and the reality of regime change. (Historical fiction. 12-14)