My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

ARC Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

Haunting, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful, this book put me through the ringer!  Author Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar tells two stories of young women in the Middle East.  Present day Nour is an American-born twelve-year-old who has moved back to Syria with her family.  Sixteen-year-old Rawiya's story is told as a fairy tale from almost a century ago.  While the stories share some similarities in geographic locations and generalized events (when someone dies in one story, something similar happens in the other), the tones of each story are very different.  I found much to love in each story.

What I Liked:

Both stories concern a long journey with many hardships and adventures that ultimately lead to finding out what "home" means.  I think Nour's story is emotionally very tough to read, at times, because it is so current.  The author certainly succeeded in getting me invested in the current crisis in Syria!  How could I not be moved by what this wonderful child goes through.  While this is a story about a girl who is twelve, I think this is too troubling for most young readers.  I had nightmares from the vivid descriptions of what this family went through.

Although many of the dangers were similar, Rawiya's story reads more like a fairy-tale.  I also think her story was easier to read because older Rawiya had more control over her destiny than little Nour.  Rawiya already had some survival skills at the beginning of her adventure, and she didn't really depend on anyone.  Nour is very dependent on her mother and sisters, so when things go wrong, she can't accept that her world is no longer a safe place.  This is heartbreaking.  I couldn't help but think of my own children when I read Nour's saga.

Rawiya is a very proactive person.  She knows what she wants and willingly goes through hardships to reach her goals.  I loved her tenacity.  But, she isn't perfect.  The story makes a point of having Rawiya realize the suffering she puts her mother through, and of how she is betraying people's trust by disguising herself as a boy.

Nour is a preteen who has just lost her father to cancer. She feels very lost just from that, but moving to a country where she doesn't know the language or customs compounds her anxiety.  I was mad at Nour's mom on her behalf when there was no attempt to teach her Arabic, or explain what was happening.  I think the mom was trying to protect Nour, but this made her very dependent on others, and put the child in danger.

Nour's sisters, Huda and Zahra, grew on me as the novel progressed.  At the beginning of the story, they are more background characters.  But they come into their own later in the story.  I really loved how Zahra's character developed.  She went from a spoiled American teen to a young woman who would do anything for her family.  Instead of pining away for the U.S., she also comes to appreciate her family, and her culture.

Sensory Descriptions:
The author had Nour's character relate to everything as colors and scents.  Not just places or foods had color, but emotions as well.  Nour also had very strong scent associations, connecting situations with sensory memories.  This brought out the beauty and realism in the novel.

This book has a deep love of Syrian and other Middle Eastern cultures.  The vivid descriptions of traditions in religion, customs, and food made this region of the world come alive, and made me want to learn more! 

Trigger Warning for sexual violence!


Release Date:  May 1st, 2018

Publisher:  Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)

Author:  Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Genre:  Coming-Of-Age Fiction

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source:  Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  With beautiful descriptions and gripping storylines, this novel will make you care deeply for the plight of refugees everywhere.
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1 comment :

  1. Wonderful review, your description has me wanting to grab this one.


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2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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