Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Review of 'The Girl Who Fell to Earth' by Sophia Al-Maria

"When Sophia Al-Maria's mother sends her away from rainy Washington State to stay with her husband's desert-dwelling Bedouin family in Qatar, she intends it to be a sort of teenage cultural boot camp.  What her mother doesn't know is that there are some things about growing up that are universal.  In Qatar, Sophia is faced with a new world she'd only imagined as a child.  She sets out to find her freedom, even in the most unlikely of places.

Both family saga and coming-of-age story, The Girl Who Fell to Earth takes readers from the green valleys of the Pacific Northwest to the dunes of the Arabian Gulf and on to the sprawling chaos of Cairo.  Struggling to adapt to her nomadic lifestyle, Sophia is haunted by the feeling that she is perpetually in exile: hovering somewhere between two families, two cultures, and two worlds.  She must make a place for herself-- a complex journey that includes finding young love in the Arabian Gulf, rebellion in Cairo, and, finally, self-discovery in the mountains of Sinai.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth heralds the arrival of an electric new talent and takes us on the most personal of quests: the voyage home."

Starting in January, I joined a book club for teachers through the University of Minnesota where we read books that take place in the Middle East.  I have been fascinated by this part of the world, so pairing that fascination of mine with my desire to practice teaching and improve my teaching practice, this was a good step for me to take.  This was the first book that we read together.

I had never read anything taking place even partially in Qatar before, so it was interesting to be able to start exploring this place a little bit.  The story takes place as Qatar is starting to build up and commercialize.  Sophia's family is part of, I think, the native people of Qatar called Bedouin.

This is a story about how Sophia reconciles the two cultures she is part of and how she figures out who she is as a person (or at least starts to figure this out... it's weird how sometimes we don't figure that out until we are well into adulthood).  Her mother is from Washington and she spends a good chunk of her life there, but really doesn't fit in here.  Her mother sees no other option but to send her to her father in Qatar.  There, Sophia ALSO really doesn't fit in.  She is somewhere between these two cultures, but where these different cultures start and where Sophia finds herself in the midst of them... it's not totally clear.  And Sophia brings us on that journey.

I think I told our book club group that this is a book that I would teach to high school students.  Just dealing with this identity aspect alone is incredibly powerful and important for students this age to consider as they figure out what they want for their lives and figure out how the expectations they have for themselves fit in with what others want for them and what they ultimately choose to do.  I think reading about another character that is figuring this out (and figuring this out for quite a while too, not just as a high school student, because who has everything figured out when they graduate from high school?  I certainly didn't...).

One thing that made this read interesting was the structure of the book.  There were times when Sophia went back and forth between the present and the past and speculation and how all of these things came together.  I also appreciate that the ending wasn't nice and neat and completely tied up and ready to go.  Because life isn't that way, even if you live to be very old sometimes.  I also wonder if some of her storytelling reflects how stories are told in Bedouin culture, but I haven't found out the answer to that.

Overall, this was the book I enjoyed the most out of the books we read in this book club.  It wasn't the most popular choice in our little group, but that doesn't matter too much.

I give 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth':

Thanks for Reading!

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