There is a reason that this 93 page graphic novel is labeled as “Teens.” There may only be 300 or so words in the entire book, and the pictures at times are very basic, but oh subhanAllah is it devastating. Real, unfortunately, but I was not expecting my heart to be shredded and for me to be haunted by the framing and perspective of the story. I read a fair amount of books both fiction and nonfiction regarding Syrian refugees and I try not to ever become numb to the plight of so many, but this book was such a reminder that things don’t always turn out well, that sometimes no matter how inspired your life is to follow in the footsteps of a warrior queen, there isn’t always hope. That no matter how brave you are, horrible things will still happen, and that sometimes there is no one to hear your cries and pleas, and for so many in this cruel world, there is only silence.
The book starts with Amina on a crowded makeshift book in the ocean, the boat capsizes and we are thrust back in to her memories of playing hide-and-seek with her mother. The juxtaposition of her little body playing a game hoping not to be found with her limp body in the ocean begging to be found is stark. The memories then take us back to her mom preparing dolmas with only rice and salt, since that is all that is left. Her father jokes that they are too salty. The ocean is salty as well, and the memories continue to flow. Her parents go to the market and she is not able to go with them. It doesn’t tell why, but her mother reminds her to be strong and brave like Zenobia. Her mother often reminds her of the Syrian warrior queen who was the most beautiful woman in the whole world, who ruled, fought, and rode like a man.
Her parents don’t return. She waits and waits. There are attacks, an uncle comes to take her away. They pass destruction and rubble and sleep in the road. Her body starts to sink in the water. Her uncle finds some fisherman, he gives them all his money, but it is only enough for one to go on the boat. He sends her. A kind lady on the boat shares a bit of food, before the boat flips over. Her body is lost in the ocean, hoping to be found, voiced only as a whisper inside her head.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I really don’t like it. That isn’t to say it isn’t well done and powerful. It is hard to finish though. You really hope she will be plucked out of the water even though a part of you know she won’t. I made me kids read it. It rocked them. In a good way I think, I hope. We can never forget how privileged we are, although we do all the time. Books like this remind us how quickly it can all change and how we at the bare minimum need to be acutely aware of what others go through. If it is hard to read, imagine living it.
The book is Danish, I don’t know if it is translated or originally in English. It says that it won the Danish National Illustration Award in 2017, so I’m not sure how much to critique phrasing, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how Zenobia was presented as riding, leading, and ruling like a man. I’m pretty sure she did those things better than MOST men. Having her stature be glorified as being that equal to a man weakened her and her accomplishments. Yes, doing what she did at a time when many women were not allowed to do it is impressive, but she was great in her own right, not just in comparison to the male gender.
For teens nothing. For younger kids, under 10, it is subtle, but too devastating in my opinion. Tweens should read it with some discussion, they should know it isn’t always happy and hopeful, but use your discretion if they can handle a drowning, loss of parents, and destruction.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This book is too short for a book club, but I think families should consider it and talk about it. Syria and many other nations may not be headline news at the moment in America, but that doesn’t mean wars and their far reaching implications have stopped. It just means we have grown weary and changed the channel.