At 194 pages, this book just became required reading for all my children save the two year old. Meant for middle graders, I absolutely loved this book. Sure literary siblings often run away and have adventures, think Claudia and Jamie Kincaid from Mixed Up Files, or the sisters in Ticket to India, but this Australian Muslim duo adore each other and are doing it to reach their parents and save their other five siblings from an evil Aunty babysitter. In some ways the book couldn’t and hopefully wouldn’t really happen, it is plausible however, and the way it is written bouncing back and forth in time until the resolution, and the absolute authenticity of the characters make the book hard to put down and had me laughing out loud. The book is for everyone, Muslim kids specifically though, will feel an incredible kinship to the Muslim family and relate to the anxiety of making wudu in a public restroom, the shock of having the athan clock tossed in the freezer, the nervous looks between siblings hoping someone else will speak up about what Muslims can’t eat, mistaking a nun for a hijabi, amongst so many other little sprinkled in examples. The power of OWN voice writing is exemplified and celebrated, and provides a mirror that a large swath of Muslims children, not just Lebanese Australians will benefit from and enjoy.
There are seven children in the family and when Mum and Dad announce that they have to make an emergency trip to Lebanon, the kids don’t understand why they need Mum’s friend Aunt Amel to stay with them in Australia. They don’t really even like Aunt Amel, but they don’t really know her either and as their parents leave, they have no choice but to endure until their parents return. When Aunt Amel assigns them all duties: 17 year old Omar is the 24/7 chauffeur, Kholoud becomes her personal stylist, twins Suha and Layla must keep her supplied with baked goods and tea, Akeal is the butler, Huda is the maid and little Raheed will be glued to her, some of the kids think it could be fun until they realize they are being used to provide Aunt Amel with a holiday in exchange for her staying with them. The kids are required to be up by five in the morning, are not allowed to talk to their parents, and some are even kept from school to provide the services Aunt Amel demands. The kids grudgingly try to endure, but spunky Huda is pushing back, and with the help of the retired Polish Sleep Doctor next door, a plan is hatched, tickets are booked, and Akeal and Huda are making a run for Beirut. Along the way they will be met with an Islamaphobic teen pulling off Huda’s scarf, a variety of minders keeping track of the unaccompanied minors through airports and plane rides, and baited breath as they have obstacles at every step to find their parents in a country they have never even been to before.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book is incredibly well written, I sometimes stumble a bit with Australian authored books, but this one was easy and universal in most of the dialogue and vocabulary. I enjoyed what was sprinkled in, and as a privileged American didn’t get lost at any point. The shifts in the timeline to keep the story fast paced and moving also made the stress of “if they could pull off the escape” a little bit subdued allowing the experience and dialogue and connections along the way to really be enjoyed. I think it was a smart move to not have it be full steam ahead, gritting your teeth, but more in the moment seeing why they had to do what they did, and how it was panning out for them.
I absolutely love that the family is unapologetically Muslim living in a western environment. They don’t celebrate birthdays, but they seem ok with make-up, they pray, the mom wears hijab I believe, but I don’t think the sisters do, it really is such a relatable family with their own quirks and tests and they are active and doing their best. It could be my family or most families I know, well lately my kids bicker a lot, that’s why it is required reading for them, but that is off track. Back to the book, I was so proud of Akeal sticking up for his little sister wearing a scarf to be dressed up and not backing down from confronting her harasser. I love the spunkiness but maturity of Huda. From page one you are cheering them on, and it doesn’t let up.
Kids scheming and lying and running away, all for good cause mind you.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This would be super fun to read aloud to a 3rd or 4th grade class, but I don’t think it would work for a middle school book club, it is just too quick of a read.