Title: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
Author: Firoozeh Dumas
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2016. 378 pages.
Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can't distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi.
This one is simultaneously a book about the difficulty of making it through middle school, especially as the new kid, and the far greater issues of racism in our country. Based on the author's own experience, the book opens in 1978, with "Cindy" and her parents moving to a new home in Newport Beach, CA. That's hard enough, since she is the only member of the family who's fluent in English, and even Zomorod doesn't get a lot of what goes on.
That would make for an okay book, no doubt useful to kids who feel like outsiders. But things get more complex when Zomorod and her parents first watch the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomenhi, and then the taking of the American hostages. Now she's not a weird kid from a country no one has heard of. She's a weird kid from a country that everyone seems to hate.
What this book has to say about racism and hatred is powerful. Sadly, if not for the cultural references that keep you aware of the setting, we could be talking about any Middle-Eastern family today. Bumper stickers and t-shirts that tout intolerance and hatred hit Zomorod like a fist in the stomach, and do the same to children around America today. Probably the hardest part to read is when Zomorod discovers that even adults can do hateful, hurtful things. It would be so much easier to believe that only middle-school kids are that mean.
This goes on my list of "books everyone should read to get their prejudices shaken up." Kids' books are good at that, and this one has the ring of authenticity. Good for everyone over about the age of 8 or so.
FTC Disclosure: I checked It Ain't So Awful, Falafel out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."