Nye, Naomi Shihab. Habibi. New York: Simon Pulse, 1997. ISBN 9780689801495
Habibi is an interesting novel about a Palestinian American named Liyana. Her father is from Palestine (Jerusalem in particular) and has decided it is time to go home. Much like the reader, Liyana is thrown into a world she doesn’t know and doesn’t really understand. She realizes things that aren’t a big deal in America, holding hands with a boy for example, are a big deal. She doesn’t understand why the three people groups in Jerusalem, the Armenians, Jews, and Palestinians are always hating each other.
While the general premise of the story is self discovery and growing up, it does it in a strange meandering way. While there is always an outside tension, it is Liyana’s inner turmoil and thoughts that drive the story. That being said, it isn’t a standard plot. Liyana learns things throughout the book and will occasionally flash back to dreams, conversations, or journal entries that are not recorded. In fact, just when things started getting really interesting (Liyana’s Jewish friend has just visited her grandmother’s village and they have all gone out to find a specific meal) it ends. Liyana never really found herself, the few conflicts that had popped up at the end of the book are not fully resolved, but the book is done. This can lead to imagination or leave the reader dissatisfied. I like Liyana, so I was dissatisfied with the abrupt ending.
Considering the fact that the conflict over Jerusalem mentioned in the book still isn’t resolved, this is a novel that has aged well. I can still easily prompt discussion, not only about culture and acceptance in the Middle East, but also about acceptance closer to home. The premise shown in Habibi can be applied to religions and ethnicities anywhere. This would be a good novel to read in conjunction with a history class’s coverage of the Middle East and Israel.
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award-1998 (Winner Older Children)
Middle East Book Award-2000 (Winner Older Reader)
Booklist—“ To Liyana, her younger brother, and her American mother, it is a huge upheaval. At first Liyana misses the U.S., can’t speak the languages, and feels uncertain at school, “tipped between” the cultures.”
Kirkus—“ The sights, sounds, and smells of Jerusalem drift through the pages and readers glean a sense of current Palestinian-Israeli relations and the region’s troubled history. In the process, some of the passages become quite ponderous while the human story–Liyana’s emotional adjustments in the later chapters and her American mother’s reactions overall–fall away from the plot.”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. 1997. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=8&isbn=9780689801495
Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. September 1997. (Vol. 94, No. 2). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=8&isbn=9780689801495