Middle Grade · Young Adult

RECOMMENDED: Fearless Upper MG Fantasy ‘Dragon of Bethlehem’

Huda El Shuwa’s popular and acclaimed 2017 novella Dragon of Bethlehem is about looking up at the sky, seeing things from a new vantage point, and how—even when things seem hopeless—it’s possible to change the small things around you.

Adaptations: In 2018, it was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and the The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music:

Author: Huda El Shuwa

Publisher: Tamer Institute

Contact: info@arablit.org, tamer@palnet.com

Buy in Arabic: تنين بيت لحم 

This short work— just 76 pages in Arabic and perhaps 20,000 words in English—is built around a boy named Khidr who’s just turned 16, and who lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp south of Bethlehem. Khidr has recently lost his only friend, isn’t a good student, and his father is in a psychiatric hospital. The other kids at school bully him, and the teachers aren’t much kinder. Khidr meets a sarcastic dragon (or rather, the dragon barges into his tiny camp house during the rain, because dragons do not like rain) who takes him up into the skies above Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas to show him his world afresh. Although at first his teachers just punish him even more for his new creativity, Khidr is not deterred, and eventually even goes to visit his father at the psychiatric hospital.

In 2018, Dragon of Bethlehem was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. It is exciting, gives a brief brush of Palestinian history landscapes, and also manages to be uplifting, with a smile-through-your-tears ending.

An excerpt from the beginning appears on ArabLit and another, from near the end of the novel, is forthcoming on Words Without Borders.

It opens:

TO SCHOOL

Khidr…

Khidr…

Khidr…

“It’s six o’clock… Come on, get up…”

Khidr wriggled in his bed, drifting between sleep and wakefulness as he drew his woolen Tom and Jerry blanket up over his head. He couldn’t sleep outside this haven—it had sheltered him from his first year to his sixteenth, which had just begun last Wednesday.

He hated waking up early so much. And he hated school…and oh, he hated first period…

He wished he could sleep a little longer in this warm bed, under the ancient woolen blanket that was like a cave full of beautiful, safe dreams. To go to the high school near his house meant he had a morning walk down cold, dark lanes, before the sun dared spread its wings firmly across the sky above Dheisheh Refugee Camp.

“Mmmmsleeeepy.”

The smell of sage tea, hard-boiled eggs, hot bread with zaatar… That’s what his mother fed him every morning, and it sent a little warmth his way, pulling him out of bed.

“Zaatar kickstarts the brain,” his mom would tell him every morning, as he sipped his tea. Khidr wasn’t sure about this saying; his brain felt completely shut off.

“Did you forget I’m seeing your dad today? Won’t you come with me? It’s so long since you’ve seen him.”

Khidr looked over at the picture hanging on the wall; the two people in it looked like wax statues. His dad was smiling in a black suit, while his mom was beside him in a white dress, wearing a lot of makeup… His mom didn’t wear makeup like that anymore, and she didn’t put on bright-colored clothes, either.

“No, Ma, I don’t want to see him. What am I going to say? I mean, I feel like I don’t know him.”

“How is that your father’s fault?” She lowered her head. He knew that look—the look where the light in her eyes flickered out. He felt a prick of conscience, as he did whenever he saw tears shining in her eyes.

Keep reading on ArabLit.

Young Adult

RECOMMENDED: Taghreed Najjar’s ‘Whose Doll Is This?’, A Palestinian Coming-of-age YA

ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s first Young Adult novel, Against the Tide (ست الكل).

Awards: Winner of the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2019

Author: Taghreed Najjar

Publisher: Salwa Books

Contact: rights@alsalwabooks.com.

Buy in Arabic: لمن هذه الدمية؟

Whose Doll Is This? is a Palestinian YA story for our times—a compelling tale of love, loss, injustice, and the possibilities of restitution. This page-turning coming-of-age tale centers on the discovery of a long-disappeared childhood doll and raises key issues, including cultural appropriation and coming to terms with one’s roots. WHOSE DOLL IS IT? is the fourth YA novel by award-winning author Taghreed Najjar, a 2019 nominee for the Astrid Lindgren award and a several-time winner and shortlistee of the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature. Najjar’s books have been translated to English, Italian, Swedish, Turkish, and French.

In Whose Doll Is This?, our teen lead, Arwa, is in her last year of high school. At first, she hardly considers herself Palestinian. She was brought up in the US, and her biggest concerns are her relationship with Stan and choosing a college. She chafes against her mom’s restrictions.

But then she comes to a lecture given by grandma, Dr. Laila, which she expects to be boring. When people heckle her grandma, Arwa begins to see things differently. This is also when she meets her new beau, Saeed. And when Arwa stumbles across her grandma’s beloved childhooddoll, she traces it back through previous owners to Nurit, who survived the Nazis and moved into Laila’s family home. Laila writes a book about the story. When it’s published, Nurit comes to a launch event and returns Laila’s old journal. But not everyone wants restorative justice: When Arwa and Laila travel to Israel to film a documentary based on the book, they meet with hostility. But now, the once-childish Arwa is steadfast.

There are more than six million diaspora Palestinians. Even more, the issues raised by this book—exile, cultural appropriation, teen relationships—would be interesting to any young adult (and adult) reader.

An excerpt from ‘Whose Doll Is This?’

The excerpt below is from chapter 15 of Whose Doll Is This?, titled “Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” Arwa has by now found her grandma Laila’s beloved childhood doll on e-Bay, bought it from an antiques dealer, and drove out with her budding love interest Saeed to talk to the antiques dealer, Mr. Alexey. From him, she got the phone number and address of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. When they don’t answer the phone, Sara and her friend Sara take a bus out to Bloomington, Indiana, to track them down.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson

Then they were on their way to Bloomington, to meet the people who’d sold the doll to Mr. Alexey.

“I feel like we’re two high-powered investigators,” Sara said. “And, since the story of your grandma’s doll is so weird and unbelievable, and since I’m going to major in film, I’m totally going to make a documentary about it. And when I’m a famous director, it’s going to win me an Academy Award.”

Arwa laughed. “Ahh, Sara, that’s an excellent dream. I agree, on the condition that I get to choose the actor who’ll play me in the film. It’s important that she be tall, blonde, and beautiful…just like me.”

“But…you’re dark-haired and short… And, of course, beautiful.”

“Of course, Madame Sara. Beautiful, smart, and full of spit and wit, just like my grandma says.”

The two girls burst out laughing. Then they got busy imagining which famous actors would star in Sara’s future film. The bus made several stops along the way, giving Arwa and Sara a chance to eat sandwiches and have a quick coffee in the station cafeteria. When they found out from the cafeteria waitress that the address of the place they were going was on the outskirts of town, they decided to take a taxi right to the front door.

The taxi stopped at a final, isolated house that was old and falling down, in desperate need of maintenance and a coat of paint. Arwa asked the driver: “Are you sure this is the right address?”

“Of course I’m sure,” the driver said anxiously. “You want me to wait for you? It might be hard for you to get a taxi back.”

“No thanks,” Sara said. “We’ll manage.”

Arwa glanced up at the house’s second floor, where she saw an elderly woman watching her from behind a curtain. The woman seemed upset. Suddenly, Arwa and Sara heard the sound of a dog barking and a man calling, “Sit, Star. Sit!” Before Arwa could press the bell, the door opened up and a huge, bald man stood in front of them with a long gray beard, worn clothes—and a hunting rifle in his hand.

The man glared at them. “Are you from the debt-collection agency?” he yelled. “I know what liars you are. You send young girls so we think you’ve got good intentions. But then, when we open the door, boom, you hit us with a court summons. Go on, get out of here before I take a shot at you. It’s my right, since you’re trespassing on my private property. Go on, get out of here. Now!”

Arwa and Sara took several steps back, shocked by this reception. Sara whispered as she tugged on Arwa’s arm: “Come on, Arwa. Let’s get out of here before we get hurt!”

Arwa yanked her arm back. “No. I’m not going until I get an answer about the doll.” She approached the man, saying, “You’re mistaken, Sir! We’re here for a totally different reason, and we’re not with any debt-collection company. Please, just hear me out. We only need a few minutes of your time, and then we’ll go.”

Before he could answer, they heard a voice from inside the house. “Let them in, Fred. I’m curious what brought these girls all the way out to the edge of the world. Come on in. Come on!”

When Fred opened the door, Star walked up, sniffing and wiggling his tail in welcome. “Stupid dog!” Fred bellowed. “You’re supposed to be a guard dog to scare strangers off, not welcome them.”

The old woman coughed. “So. What brings you here to the end of the world? What do you want from us?”

Arwa cleared her throat. “Mrs. Wilson, I recently bought an old doll from an antique shop in Chicago. The owner of the shop, Mr. Alexey, told us that he bought the doll from a Mr. and Mrs. Wilson…and… Aren’t those your names? Anyhow, our request is simple. All we want to know is—how did you get the doll?”

“Doll!” Fred said. “What doll are you talking about?”

Arwa took out a photo of the doll and handed it to Fred. “This is the doll I’m talking about.”

Fred took a long look at the photo and shook his head. “Never seen this doll in my life.” Then he handed the picture to his wife. She was silent for a while before she nodded. “That’s the one… Don’t you remember, Fred? The attic was full of dusty old junk except for one old doll that was wrapped in white paper and stuck in a cardboard box.” The old woman gave them a look. “Is there a reward for this information?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Arwa said. “But let me explain the reason for our interest in this doll, Ma’am. This old doll belonged to my grandma—it’s the same exact doll she lost as a child, more than 50 years ago, in Jaffa, Palestine. My grandma’s now an old woman, and she’s curious about what happened to her doll from the time she lost it until she recovered it.”

“Some money might help me remember,” the old woman said, insistently.

Arwa and Sara exchanged looks. After that, Arwa pulled twenty dollars out of her bag. “I hope this is enough.”

“Enough?? Nothing would be enough for our food and medications. Nothing would be enough, but… Well, it seems like you’re a nice girl, and that you love your grandma. My grandkids never ask about me. I wish my granddaughter would ask after me, give me presents on the holidays. But… they’re my heartbreak. I barely see ‘em once a year.”

She fell silent for a moment. Then she said: “I’ll tell you about the doll because you’re good girls. When we moved into this house, almost twenty-five years ago, we found a bunch of old junk in the attic, left behind by the people who lived here before us. I remember the doll especially, because it was wrapped up so carefully and put in a white cardboard box. We needed money, and a neighbor said we could sell that and some other old junk to an antique shop. We sold the doll and all the rest of it for around $300. Seemed like a lot at the time, but clearly we made a mistake, since there must be people like your grandma who’ll pay a lot more.”

Disappointment spread across Arwa’s face. “Do you know the address of the old owner?”

“We told you we bought the house twenty-five years ago,” Fred said sarcastically. “How exactly would we remember?”

Mrs. Wilson snorted. “We don’t even remember what we ate yesterday.”

Arwa thanked Mrs. Wilson. As she walked out, the old woman said, as she closed the door behind them, “If you want to find the name and address of the old owner, you’ve got to go to a company called Renewable Real Estate at the center of town. They might be able to help you.” Then, after she shut the door, she shouted: “And never come back!”

Translation by M. Lynx Qualey. For information about translation rights, contact Al Salwa Books at rights@alsalwabooks.com.

Fantasy · Young Adult

Ahmed al-Mahdi’s ‘Reem’: Dark Yet Witty YA Fantasy

ArabKidLitNow recommends Ahmed al-Mahdi’s dark yet witty YA fantasy, Reem (ريم).

Author’s awards:Winner of the Short Story Award, 2017, from the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction, for the short story “Unusual Visitor”

Author: Ahmed al-Mahdi

Publisher: Al-Kenzi for Publishing and Distribution

Contact: info@arablit.org

Buy in Arabic: ريم

Egyptian author-translator Ahmed al-Mahdi’s Reem: Into the Unknown (2017) is a dark YA fantasy, a reimagined folktale in the vein of T. Kingfisher’s The Seventh Bride. It opens from the point of view of Saif, who’s living a claustrophobic life in suburban Cairo, working a desk for a major corporation. His life is empty, and, after taking a detour to get around a typical Cairo traffic jam, he crosses paths with a pet store, just a stone’s throw away from home. There, he finds a cage covered in black cloth, hiding a strange black cat. This launches Saif—and the reader—into the intertwined stories of Reem and Osama.

Reem re-tells a European horror-folktale in an Egyptian setting, with Egyptian wit, relaying the story of a girl who’s pressed into witchcraft by her seemingly kind old grandmother.  Saif must untangle the threads of the story, delving into the world of greed and witchcraft thriving just beneath the workaday world of modern Cairo.

Ahmed al-Mahdi is an author, translator, and critic who lives in Cairo, Egypt and has published three novels, as well as numerous stories for children.

Sample:

In his office at one of Egypt’s big corporations, Saif sat in front of his computer’s bright screen, feeling totally bored. He stared inattentively at the numbers that ran past on his screen, and from time to time he yawned and checked the time on the wooden clock that hung on the wall, wondering how much time was left till the workday ended. Although he had a digital clock in the corner of his screen, he preferred the sound of the wooden clock ticking away, with its constant, circular, clockwise movement, which gave him a sense of the passage of time.

He struck the keys with the rapid movements that now came to him, as he was used to the mundane work that drained away hours of his life every day. He felt especially weary today, because it was the last day of the week, and he was looking forward to the weekend. It seemed there was an unwritten rule that, the closer the thing you wanted, the more you craved it. He didn’t actually do much on the weekends — just watch TV and read the occasional novel — as he lived alone, and he preferred not to hang out much with his friends, who’d become used to his retiring personality.

Saif glanced up again at the wooden clock and noticed there were only about fifteen minutes remaining, so he arranged the papers on his desk and shut down his computer. Once the clock struck three o’clock, he left the office and rushed down the stairs. He didn’t like the elevator, since he was claustrophobic. Once he reached the ground floor, he headed to the garage, looking for his car, trying to remember where he’d parked it that morning. Finally he found it, and rushed toward it.

The garage worker was waving as usual to greet him, so he waved back before he got into his car. He started up the engine, which roared as usual. Then he left the office building, driving the car into the crowded city streets, heading straight for home. To pass the time, he began to think about what he’d have for lunch — although he don’t need to worry about deciding what to eat, since he lived alone. He might get some take-away, or cook a simple meal using his humble cooking skills, which hadn’t improved, even though he’d lived alone for many years. Today was, as he always told himself, “just another day.”

Yet on this particular day, there was construction work on the main road, and drivers had a hard time trying to pass through the tiny sliver of road that barely allowed for a single car to edge through. Saif wasn’t the kind of person who could bear sitting in a Cairo traffic jam, so he decided to take another route home. This way was actually longer, forcing him to take several side roads, but for him it was still better than being stuck with all the angry drivers on the main road.

When Saif passed a fast-food restaurant, he seized the opportunity and bought some hot sandwiches to eat on the long ride home. But then, before he got home, he noticed a pet store. Even though it was close to his apartment, this was the first time he’d ever seen it. If he hadn’t been forced to change his daily route, he might never have seen it.

He suddenly felt the desire for a pet, without knowing where the urge came from. Maybe it was just the idea of doing something new and different, or maybe it was because his friends kept insisting that he marry, telling him that living alone could make him lose his mind. Maybe the company of a pet would relieve his loneliness. Although the idea seemed strange to him at first, after he turned it over in his head – while he was standing in front of the shop – he said to himself, “Why not?”

Full manuscript and plot synopsis available upon request.

Young Adult

Sonia Nimr’s ‘Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands’: A Feminist Folk-Historical Novel for All Ages

ArabKidLitNow recommends Sonia Nimr’s award-winning young-adult novel, Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands (رحلات عجيبة في البلاد الغريبة).

Post-award edition of the Arabic.

Awards: Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, 2014; IBBY Honor List 2014

Author: Sonia Nimr

Publisher: Tamer Institute

Contact: info@arablit.org

Buy in Arabic: رحلات عجيبة في البلاد الغريبة

Sonia Nimr’s Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands was published in 2013 by Tamer Institute. In 2014, it won the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, in the YA category, and also was an IBBY honor-list book that year.

This gorgeous feminist-fable-plus-historical-novel is the sort of literary folktale that’s enjoyable for all ages. Take 1001 Nights and the narratives of the great 14th century Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, put tell them through an irrepressible Palestinian girl.

In English, there’s nothing like it.

Our story begins hundreds of years ago, when our hero — Qamr — is born at the foot of a mountain in Palestine, near her father’s strange, isolated village. Her mother solves the mystery of why only boys are born in this odd, conservative village. But then, in proper 1001 Nights style, this tale moves into another. Qamr’s parents die, and a prince with many wives wants to marry her. Qamr takes her favorite book, Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, as she flees through Gaza, to Egypt, is captured and made a slave to the sister of the mad king in Egypt. After many adventures in the palace (and a time helping the sister to rule!) she then runs away to study with a polymath in Morocco. But when it’s discovered she’s a girl, she must leave there, too, and disguises herself as a boy becomes a pirate to sail the Mediterranean. Qamr has a child, who is stolen from her, and she follows her daughter to Yemen. In the final moments, we hold our breath, as it seems she’s about to find her little daughter. There is never a boring moment in this clear, charmingly told, girl-centric book.

Wondrous is around 220 pages inthe Arabic and about 70,000 words in translation. It has already been translated into Spanish.

Sample:

Cover of the Spanish translation

And so it was that my mother went into labor while sitting astride the donkey that was carrying her from the city to our village. My father had to halt the caravan, then pitch my mother a small tent at the foot of the mountain.

It was a difficult birth. If it weren’t for the quick-wittedness of her servant, and the instructions my mother gave in spite of her condition, she would’ve died bringing us into this world. My mother bore twins in that tent at the foot of the mountain, and she stayed in it seven days before she managed to continue on the hardest part of her journey: the ascent up the mountain.

That summer was scorching hot, and at this time of year the trip was almost suicide. Yet it was also the only time of year when the wide valley surrounding the mountain could be safely crossed by those who wanted to reach our village. My father had left his nameless town nearly four years before, thinking he would never return.

Yet fate had other plans.

“The Village” was the name of this tiny, hard-to-reach hamlet that sat high on a mountain, whose people lived off farming and sheep-herding. The men of the village went down to the city once a year, traveling for two days until they reached it, either on foot or by donkey. There, they would sell their produce of cheese, fruit, olives, and leather, and they would buy what they needed of clothes, tools, and sometimes books. In the city, the villagers would also learn news of the past year, the name of their country’s ruler, and other tales.

“The Village,” as the people who lived there knew it, was so isolated that no one knew of its existence, save a few of the city’s merchants who traded with the villagers. No one visited the village. Since only adult men went down to the city, none of the women knew what the city looked like, nor even how to reach it. The men made their journey in the summer, when the valley around the mountain dried out. For the rest of the year, the village was isolated by the wide, water-filled valley below.

All the people in the village were relatives born of one original family. The story went like this:

Sheikh Saad, the village’s first elder, fled the south of Palestine hundreds of years ago. He’d murdered a man, and feared revenge from the man’s family. Sheikh Saad wandered with his own family for a long time, until he had a dream. In it, he saw an enormous tree with leaves that were always green, throwing their broad shade over a mountain, and so he went north until he found that tree. There, on the mountain, he built his house and the village.

Over the years, our village established its own laws and beliefs, created and enforced by its Council of Elders. The villagers believed, for instance, that if anyone left the village to live somewhere far away, it would bring a curse on the village, dragging in its wake ruin and misfortune. They also believed that, if a stranger were to come into the village, it would bring difficulties, perhaps leaving them cursed for all times. So marriage to men outside the village was forbidden—even though, since the women weren’t allowed to leave, marriage to an outsider was impossible!

In the village, only boys were allowed to learn to read. Girls were barred from education and denied access to books, for fear the books would corrupt them.

Life in the village had gone on like this for many years. The laws took root and grew increasingly complex, such that no one even dared think of staying in the city more than the two sanctioned weeks. Certainly no one dared marry outside the village. Neither did the women think of learning, nor the girls of playing. And no one dared raise his eyes to meet the gazes of the village’s long-bearded elders, who were its absolute rulers. If one of the elders passed by on the road, the men would stop working. They’d bend their backs and stare at the ground until the elder had completely disappeared.

As to women, whether they worked in the fields or stayed at home, they were not allowed to have a single honest look at the elders. They had to be satisfied, or even happy, that the only reason they might be allowed in the elders’ presence was during an appearance before the court. That’s where they would end up if one of their husbands filed a complaint against them. In these cases, the elders’ rulings were harsh. Either they would order the woman be beaten in the village square, or they’d order her locked up in a house with other guilty wives. They would stay that way for one to three months, depending on the strength of the accusation.

The House of Shamed Wives was a small, single-room shack at the edge of the village, without windows or light, where women would live on dry bread and water until the end of their sentence. Then she’d have to promise not to raise her head in front of her husband, nor speak to him, unless she had been spoken to first.

And yet despite all the strict laws and extreme caution, a curse came to the village: One day, a man named Suleiman fled from them and didn’t return. The men of the village said that Suleiman loved a girl from the city who, they claimed, was a djinn. It was she who seized his mind and made him commit this crime. The curse had been in place since his departure, and the village elders could do nothing about it.

Entire manuscript available in English upon request.

Young Adult

Taghreed Najjar’s ‘Against the Tide’: Inspired by the True Story of a Teen Gazan Fisherwoman

ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s first Young Adult novel, Against the Tide (ست الكل).

Print

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2013

Author: Taghreed Najjar

Publisher: Salwa Books

Contact: ejaquette@gmail.com

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.

Sample:

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.

An additional sample and reader’s report are also available online. More available upon request.