Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best-friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.
But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.
Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published: October 1st 2009 by Pan Macmillan Australia
‘There is no war in music.’
A beautifully told and nuanced story about family roots, hope, loss, and life in the middle of a conflict. I liked how the multi-faith aspects of the middle-east region are shown through the friendships between different families. Hayaat is Muslim, her best friend Samy is Christian and their interactions are heartwarming.
On their journey to Jerusalem, they also meet Jewish Israeli-American peace activists who bring in another perspective to the experience of occupation. Though I was also curious about the perspective that a Jewish youth might have in this story too.
The presence of a multi-generational family, heritage and history are strong threads in this story. In particular, Hayaat’s Sitti Zeynab is the heart of this book. I love that she passes down her humour, love and wisdom to Hayaat. She also confronts the prejudices that can form during a conflict. It’s an important reflection she shares with Hayaat.
‘We Arabs say that the wound that bleeds inwardly is the most dangerous. So I do not hate, ya Hayaat.’
Hayaat is a relatable heroine with an independent spirit. Her best friend Samy brings a playful dynamic to the story. Even though Hayaat embarks on a reckless quest, she has a friend by her side for the lighter moments. I’m not as familiar with the conflict addressed in the story but found that this book is a thought provoking read on occupation.
‘I want to tear our papers and identity cards into a million tiny pieces and throw them to the wind so each piece of me can touch my homeland freely, the wind lifting me over checkpoints, bypass roads, settlements and the Wall.’
This is a layered historical fiction young adult book with a character centric focus. Will pick up more of the author’s books in the future. The following poster is also great resource for anyone looking for books by Australian Muslim authors.
*Note – Some characters use ableist words (e.g. crazy) but it doesn’t happen often in the story.