Wandering around Kyobo bookstore I saw this children’s book (for older kids say 10-11) and thought it might me an easy way to acquaint myself with the Middle East. The Shadows of Ghadams is set in Libya and tells the story of a girl, whose female relatives hide and save an injured man whom more fundamentalist citizens were chasing. Since the father and older male relatives are all gone, they can nurse this man and help him escape.
It would be a quick read if it weren’t so boring. There’s little dramatic tension even when they must get this man out of their home (the plan just works out, no near failure). Throughout the story, Malika adds tidbits about the culture describing food preparation, festivals, clothing, this is where historical fiction can get really interesting, but only if it’s carefully woven into the story. Not here sadly. Her cultural sidebars seem just that–noticeable and set in a different tone than the narration. It’s all so artificial. I kept wondering “Who is this girl doing all this tour guide-like explanation for?” Clearly. she’s talking to her readers, but good writing makes that invisible. Some device where she did have an audience or a reason for the exposition would have helped.
The characters change very little, even Malika and this is a coming of age sort of story. The author seemed to have trouble with political correctness. The characters are Muslims and the most conservative seem to be willing to accept changes in their traditions and the progressive thinkers were willing to wait for “natural change.” No one was too far from the center. Is that real? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It wasn’t too interesting that’s for sure.
I started the book and put it down. I only finished it because I am moving and want to donate some books to our school library.
One reason for reading a children’s book was to familiarize myself with what’s happening now and possibly writing a YA novel. If this is any indication, the market isn’t that hard to crack.