Recommend: Young children moving from a Western lifestyle to an Eastern.
Jeddah feels like a different planet to Johannesburg. In spite of her initial reluctance to venture out of the comfort and security of their new home, she quickly forms friendships with Nizar Bukhari and Lana Alahmadi. However, not everyone is happy with the situation.
Courtney must learn to adapt to an alien, seemingly unforgiving culture and stand up to the bullies that are making her school life hell.
Nizar and Lana must both try to overcome their family prejudices in order for their friendship with Courtney to survive. Will they succeed? Will they be able to set aside their differences? Can they bridge the cultural divide?
The Rating Breakdown
Enjoyment: 3 A quick read, but I wanted more plot.
Writing Style: 3 Clear and easy to read, but sometimes a little bland.
Plot: 1 Situations where things are learned rather than a plot.
World & Concepts: 4 I learned a lot about the culture, but wanted to see more of Saudi Arabia.
Characters: 4 Main character is likeable, although I thought she was younger than stated.
Finish: 4 Reads flawlessly. I’m not a fan of the cover art but the pictures inside were a nice touch.
Strengths: I enjoyed learning about a Muslim culture from multiple perspectives.
Weakness: Very niche audience.
This is a bit of a young novel for me. The middle grade novels I tend to review have more of an ageless quality, like Disney films and (when no one’s looking) Adventure Time. This didn't have the same appeal for me personally, although it will probably appeal well to young children moving from a Western environment to an Eastern and feel a bit anxious.
Usually when a book is written with the intentions of teaching, the author to sacrifice the plot and entertainment factor in aide of learning. This book is no different. It’s short and easy to get through but I wouldn’t recommend it to the average reader.
The main character is twelve year old Courtney, although she sounds a lot younger than twelve. She’s a white girl who has to move to a school in Saudi Arabia and needs to adapt to the new culture, although we get to see snippets of others' perspectives which give a balanced view of Muslim life.
The voice is young and simple. It’s mainly narrated by a typical young girl with an annoying younger brother and a reluctant attitude to uprooting her life. I could sympathise, but I couldn’t relate. Young children might love the characterisation, but it’s not written in a way that grabs the older audience. It’s a bit too simple, missing out on that ‘spark’ factor.
I found it was often closer to non-fiction than fiction. Courtney discovered more about a world which is out of her comfort zone in a series of episodic events. I enjoyed leaning through Courtney as I only knew a little bit more than she did about the culture, but when each situation only lasted a page or two, I needed something more: I wanted an overarching plot that would bring the ideas together to form some sort of peak with a resolution towards the end.
There was no grand plot. The conflict included reluctance to be there and a few difficult classmates, but the character rarely acted on these things. The whole book is very passive. The characters experience life without being able to act on it, and have mundane kid experiences. The stakes? None. Action? None. Climax and resolution? Minimal. No mystery, no suspense. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few great scenes, but there wasn’t a clear middle and end - nothing that makes the story cohesive. A bit of a plot started to develop within the last few pages, but it was resolved quickly. That section was more like an extended episode.
If you know someone who’s moving to a Muslim country and has small children, this would be a great book to recommend them. Or maybe this would work well in schools to help children learn about other cultures. I can see it being very useful, but it's more of a teaching tool than a book for entertainment.