I keep my wrist loose and easy, strum-flicking. The beat builds in me, and the opera singer’s voice and the commuters’ footsteps fade. The outside worlds gets smaller and smaller until it is just me and the rebab.
But the world inside me expands. Even though my eyes are closed, I see my home. Not the apartment here in Boston, or the slum in Istanbul, or the cramped hostel in Athens, or the back room in Iran.
I see my Kandahar house.
(The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth. P5.)
Sami and his grandfather fled Afghanistan and are making a new life for themselves in Boston. Sami’s grandfather was a famous musician in Afghanistan and the sound of his rebab reminds Sami of home.
When the rebab is stolen is a subway station, Sami vows to get it back. The only problem is he will have to raise $700 to buy it back before it is sold to someone else.
Sami embarks on a series of trades, making deals which bring him closer to his goal. The only problem is, to make the trades work, he will need to open up to new people … and that’s something Sami isn’t ready to do.
A warm-hearted book about trauma and friendship.
A contemporary middle-grade book with a big heart. Sami’s life has been torn apart. People he loves have died, his home has been attacked and he has been forced to leave behind everything he knows. What he wants most – for his life to return to normal – isn’t possible. This is a story about reaching out to other people and building new connections.
I loved how this story was built around the idea of trading. Kids trade. Trading is part of any childhood – from the upsets about trades we want to reverse to the trouble caused by unfair trading. Do you remember objects being banned in primary school? Pokemon cards or Loom bands? Usually, the reason for the ban was so adults didn’t have to manage the drama caused by swapsies and trading. Kids are more enterprising than we give them credit for. Alyssa Hollingsworth has built a lovely story around this staple childhood pastime.
It was clear from both the story and the notes at the back that the author has fully embraced and learned about Sami’s culture. It is important that, when we write stories about cultures other than our own, we listen to people with the life experience. Alyssa Hollingsworth has done more than that – she has lived alongside and befriended people who have shared their stories. I wasn’t just introduced to Sami. I was introduced to a whole culture.
There are some lovely themes about friendship and particularly about remaining open to new experiences even when we can’t return to our old lives. There is a beautiful moment when Sami’s grandfather says that there can never be a replacement for the people we have lost, but there are abundant additions. New friends bless our lives and, in any form of grief, we eventually have to open ourselves to that change.
Readers will cheer Sami on in his quest and cry with him when he shares his worst experiences. A true read for empathy and a great story of our times.
Thanks to Piccadilly Press for my copy of The Eleventh Trade. Opinions my own.