Friday, March 5, 2010

Towelhead by Alicia Erian

Towelhead by Alicia Erian.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Disturbing"











From the back of the book: "It is August 1990. Saddam Hussein has just invaded Kuwait, and Jasira's mother has bought her daughter a one-way ticket to Texas to live with her strict Lebanese father. Living in a neat model home in Charming Gates, just outside of Houston, Jasira struggles with her father's rigid lifestyle and the racism of her classmates, who call her "towelhead". For the first time, the painful truth hits her: she's an Arab. Her aching loneliness and growing frustration with her parents' conflicting rules drive her to rebel in very dangerous ways. Most disturbingly, she becomes sexually obsessed with the bigoted army reservist next door, who alternately cares for, excites, and exploits her."

This book is heavy going, and I found it very upsetting to read. Jasira is an extremely real and believable character. She is thirteen years old, going through puberty, and starting to think about who she is. She's open, and trusting, and really wanting to have some trusted adults around that she can talk through her feelings and thoughts. But all around her the adults let her down in big ways and small, refusing to talk about difficult issues like body image, sexuality and race identity. All the while, they also starve her of love, affection and loving, appropriate touch. You've heard the saying "looking for love in all the wrong places"? Well that's Jasira to a tee.

Towards the end of the book, we see some hope for Jasira, but I fear that by then she is already suffering significant damage that may well be life-long. I really struggled to get through this book, in which Jasira suffers parental neglect, physical and sexual abuse. I think that, having my own daughter that is at a similar age to Jasira, I found it doubly hard to take. It made me want to put my arms around Alana, and tell her how beautiful, and special, and precious she is.

This book is well-written, and very effective in creating strong characters and heart-breakingly real situations. But it's not for the faint-hearted.

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