Words in the Dust takes place in a small village in Afghanistan and shows us the day to day life through the eyes of a young girl named Zulaikha. Zulaikha was born with a cleft lip and hides behind her shawl. She shares the household chores with her older sister Zeynab and her father's second wife and helps to care for her younger brothers while her older brother works with their father. At the baazar she meets an old woman who knew her late mother and the woman teaches her to read and write in secret. American soldiers help Zulaikha have surgery to fix her face soon after her sister is married off to a much older man.
So much of Afghani life is described in this book. We learn about the call to prayer at dawn, bargaining at the bazaar, wedding rituals, daily chores and family dynamics. The writing is beautiful and I could barely put the book down. It is hard for most Americans to imagine girls not being allowed to go to school, not meeting their new spouse until the wedding and women being treated as subserviant to men. As Zulaikha's tells her story we can see she is a strong, brave and loving girl who's one wish in life is to be normal. As I read this book I anticipated something awful happening to her as visions of The Kite Runner floated in my head. I breathed a sigh of relief with the success of her surgery and then cried as Zeynab's story unfolded the way it did.
The author, Trent Reedy spent time in the army on a peacekeeping mission and his repect and admiration of the people of Afghanistan shines through. His "author's note" helped me understand how he came to write this story and to portray the characters as well as he did. The glossary was very helpful and I used it often. This is a fascinating piece of fiction and I recommend it highly to fourth graders and up and to those who enjoyed A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and/or Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai.