cover image Habibi


Naomi Shihab Nye. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80149-5

This soul-stirring novel about the Abbouds, an Arab American family, puts faces and names to the victims of violence and persecution in Jerusalem today. Believing the unstable situation in that conflict-ridden city has improved, 14-year-old Liyana's family moves from St. Louis, Mo., to her father's homeland. However, from the moment the Abbouds are stopped by Jewish customs agents at the airport, they face racial prejudice and discord. Initially, Nye (Never in a Hurry) focuses on the Abbouds' handling of conflicting cultural norms between American and Arab values as they settle into their new home (e.g., Liyana's father, Poppy, while forbidding her to wear ""short"" shorts, reacts in anger toward a relative who asks for Liyana's hand in marriage). Then Liyana tests her family's alleged unprejudiced beliefs when she befriends Omer, a Jewish boy. She wants to introduce him to her father (who taught her, ""Does it make sense that any God would choose some people and leave the others out?... God's bigger than that!""), but finds she must first remind him of his own words. Nye expertly combines the Abbouds' gradual acceptance of Omer with a number of heart-wrenching episodes of persecution (by the different warring factions) against her friends and family to convey the extent to which the Arab-Israeli conflict infiltrates every aspect of their lives. Nye's climactic ending will leave readers pondering, long after the last page is turned, why Arabs, Jews, Greeks and Armenians can no longer live in harmony the way they once did. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)