ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s first Young Adult novel, Against the Tide (ست الكل).
Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2013
Author: Taghreed Najjar
Publisher: Salwa Books
Buy in Arabic: ست الكل
When the course of her family’s life changes forever, 15-year-old Yusra is faced with a choice. Either she accepts her new life as it is, or she defies society’s expectations to do something no woman in Gaza has ever done before.
After the tragic death of her elder brother by an Israeli rocket, and an unfortunate accident that leaves her father paralyzed and bound to his wheelchair, Yusra’s family is forced to beg for handouts from their neighbors. Between her family’s struggles and the restrictions of life in occupied Palestine, Yusra feels like the walls are closing in on her. Then she has an idea: she decides to fix up her father’s fishing boat and take up his trade to become the first and only fisherwoman in Gaza.
Yusra repairs her father’s old boat with the help of her older brother’s friends, but that is only the first hurdle she has to overcome. She must convince her parents she responsible enough to take the boat out by herself, and that it does not matter if conservative Gazan society disapproves. Yusra perseveres and ventures out to sea where she faces the greatest challenge of all: catching enough fish to support her family, while staying within the 3-mile zone in which Palestinians are allowed to fish. One day Yusra accidently goes too far, and in a harrowing encounter, the Israeli navy threatens to seize her boat. After being interviewed by a foreign journalist, Yusra decides that she too wants to be a journalist when she grows up, to help show the world what life in Gaza is really like. She pursues her new dream with the same determination: she gains access to the Internet, starts taking photographs, and begins a blog. Eventually, Yusra realizes that she can be whoever she sets her mind to be, even against terrible odds.
The details of life in Gaza highlight the historical and political specificity of Yusra’s story. Nonetheless, Against the Tide shows that despite life under occupation, Yusra is much like a girl of her age anywhere: she seeks more independence, enjoys the help and companionship of her friends, and has a frustrating but loving relationship with her family. In the end she learns that, even if her goals change, her resourcefulness will carry her along her new path. This compelling read speaks powerfully in the name of social justice, by exploring global issues through a relatable and strong female protagonist who deals with complex real-life problems.
Against the Tide is inspired by the true story of a young Gazan girl named Madelein Callab, who became Gaza’s first fisherwoman at the age of 15. The novel was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2013, and this translation was awarded a PEN Samples Grant in 2015.
Yusra knew what she needed to do. She put her fishing net in the boat along with the lunch her mother had packed and insisted that Yusra take with her. She dragged the little boat to the edge of the shore, and with Abu Ahmed’s help and a final push, the boat was in the water. She started to paddle.
“Good luck, my girl,” her father called out from shore, his voice a bit hoarse. “Good luck, Sitt al-Kul.”
“Remember what I taught you, Yusra,” Abu Ahmed called after her excitedly. “And don’t go more than three miles from shore. Because if you do…” he trailed off.
Yusra stood up in the small boat, found her balance, and then began to paddle: once on the right side, then once on the left. For weeks, she and Abu Ahmed had practiced balancing and paddling. After being away from the sea for so long, she now felt her muscles growing stronger with every day.
Yusra looked around and saw several other fishing boats heading towards the horizon, to the farthest point the Israeli naval patrol ships allowed. The fishing was better out there.
Those heading out to sea included many seasoned fishermen around her father’s age and lots of young teenage boys about her age, but Yusra was the only girl, the only fisherwoman.