More true now than ever before, young adults need stories to help them understand the daily lives of people around the globe. This beautifully written book does just that, in a way that older children will understand. These stories both draw similarities and reflect differences between the lives of children growing up in the Middle East and children growing up in the Western World.
The first story is about a girl named Rania who has just moved from bustling Cairo to a small farm town in the Delta. She is shy and has trouble making new friends, until she and Fayza meet in the street and lament the death of a donkey. Rania and Fayza have much in common, including ambition and a love of books. Unfortunately, Rania’s mother does not want Rania to socialize with the poor village farmers and lose her European ways. Rania loves Fayza and her family, though, and sneaks off to take Fayza roller blading on the concrete at the government compound. Rania’s mother catches them, and sends Rania back to Cairo to live with relatives. Before she leaves, she says a tearful goodbye to Fayza and gives her the roller blades.
The second story is about a fourteen-tear old girl working as a maid in Lebanon to send money home to her family in Syria. Aneesi’s life is not terrible; the family’s son is teaching her English, and she plans to go to school so she can perform office work. When the garden wall needs to be repaired, she recommends her out-of-work stonemason father for the job. He is hired, and comes with good news for Aneesi. One of the village men in Syria has asked for Aneesi’s hand in marriage. Aneesi is happy to see her father, but her new independence is not to be given up so easily. Several uneasy weeks later, Aneesi’s father is accused of stealing money from the family’s careless daughter. Aneesi finds the money after her father has been sent home, and the family apologizes profusely.
Aneesi still knows she must go home to her father, but knows she will be strong in her fight not to give in to an arranged marriage.
Suhayl is a Syrian teenage boy with recently divorced parents in the third story. His father tells Suhayl that he must come to live with him, and neither Suhayl nor his mother has any legal recourse. Suhayl knows his mother is very tired, so he decides to make her dinner one night before he must go.
The fourth story takes place in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Rami would like to set his brother Marwan up with the beautiful new art teacher at the camp. Because Marwan is now a street peddler instead of an engineering student, he has no confidence. Rami arranges meeting after meeting between the two, until Marwan finally finds the nerve to ask her out.
In the last story, times have gotten harder and harder in Iraq under U.S. sanctions. All the teachers are leaving the country, including Amal’s beloved English teacher. She collects money form the other students to buy him a book in the market. Meanwhile, Bilaal is thrilled because Uncle Omar is coming to visit and bring their family things. Bilaal is expecting Santa Claus, but Uncle Omar brings a suitcase full of much-needed medical supplies instead of toys. Amal’s parents sell a precious book to buy Bilaal his first new toy, and Amal uses the money she collected and her money from Uncle Omar to buy the book for her teacher.