In her debut novel, journalist Dunn tells an ambitious and winning coming-of-age story about an American teenager born to Egyptian parents.
Being a teenager probably wasn’t a cakewalk for any of us, but when you’re a first generation Egyptian-American living in post-9/11 New York, no one can blame you for having a bit of an identity crisis. Mariam, a strong but lost 15-year-old, clutches to her sole friend, the bright and outspoken Deanna. Deanna struggles with her own issues. She’s from a single-parent home (she has a “sperm donor” for a father) and contends with a facial deformity that doesn’t allow her to smile. At the start of the book, the duo make a rare party appearance that winds up landing them and the rest of their high school class in jail for underage drinking and the presence of marijuana. As a consequence, Mariam’s parents decide to send their daughter to Egypt to live with her sittu (grandmother). And, in the only unrealistic plot point in the book, Deanna’s mother decides to send her along as well. But while Deanna excitedly prepares for their journey by studying travel books and practicing Arabic with Baba (Mariam’s father), Mariam dreads the idea of living with her sittu, whose “iron fist” she grew up fearing. Luckily, her grandmother turns out to be an incredibly warm and interesting woman who teaches Mariam about life and love and to be proud of her ancestry. Though their trip is cut short due to a revolution throughout Egypt, the five-day jaunt is a whirlwind of activity—a trip to the pyramids, ice skating in a mall, a love story for both young women and a brush with the political uprising that both inspires and teaches. The author shines at writing teenagers—no part of how they talk or think feels unfaithful to that delicate stage in life.
An excellent young-adult novel that is an important and enjoyable read for both teenage girls and any adult wanting to understand more about the present-day life of Egyptian Americans.