It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

Published by Clarion Books 

Summary:  Zomorod is starting sixth grade in Newport Beach, California, the latest stop on her family’s shuffle between their native Iran and her father’s petroleum engineering jobs in California.  It’s not an easy transition, but Zomorod knows one step she can take to help herself—change her name to Cindy.  Middle school has its ups and downs, but Cindy makes some good friends, is at the top of her classes, and finds herself enjoying life in America.  It’s 1978, though, and as events in Iran deteriorate, so does Cindy’s life.  The anti-Iranian sentiment peaks with the taking of American hostages, and Cindy’s father’s job gets cut.  No one is hiring Iranian engineers, and as the crisis in Iran drags on, Cindy finds herself withdrawing from her friends.  Finally, the family is out of savings, and it looks like they will have to go back to Iran—an Iran they hardly recognize anymore under the Ayatollah Khomeini.  Just as things are bottoming out, help comes from a most unexpected source, and Cindy’s friends and neighbors show her that kindness is an international virtue.  An author’s note tells about the semi-autobiographical nature of her story and introduces the Falafel Kindness project.  384 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  If Judy Blume were an Iranian immigrant and didn’t write about puberty issues, she might sound something like this.  Cindy’s story is a perfect blend of middle school girl story, historical fiction, and lessons in compassion.

Cons:  When events from your own high school days are categorized as “historical fiction”.

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