An Iranian girl in a California middle school struggles to bridge cultures in this compelling, semi-autobiographical narrative.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozah Dumas. Clarion, 2016, 370 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grade, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-up
Zomorod Yousefzadeh has a complicated history: born in Abadan, Iran, she has moved between Iran and California four times. Her father works in the oil industry (and will discourse on that subject at the slightest provocation); his business has taken the family, first to Compton, and now to Newport Beach. For this move, Zomorod decides her name will be Cindy and she will try to fit in with America, even though she knows her family will return to Iran in a few years. “Fitting in” means ignoring, misleading, and sometimes lying to her parents so her classmates won’t find out how weird they are. Unfortunately for Cindy, the move to Newport Beach occurs in late summer, 1978, and within a year her native country will be turned upside-down, with consequences that reach all the way around the world.
1978 saw the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, who was largely a puppet of the United States–at least that’s the way Cindy’s family understands it. The Shah’s departure was followed within a year by the capture of the American embassy and almost 100 hostages. This event is widely considered to be the beginning of the War on Terror, but Cindy doesn’t have that perspective. She’s a typical pre-teen with all the normal anxieties compounded by an act of war and expressions of hostility from neighbors and classmates toward her native country—understandable but hurtful. Cindy’s family is Muslim but not religious; her father is deeply distressed when Iran becomes the property of radical Imams. His personal views don’t matter, however, when the oil company he works for fires him. Most of the story, largely based on the author’s own experience, is about the typical early-teen problem of fitting in. Cindy has her share of misunderstandings and embarrassing moments, but wins one excellent friend and several good friends. In the end, America is seen as a basically good-hearted country with essential freedoms we should appreciate more. The ending for the Yousefzadahs seems a little too sunny, but I hope it’s true to fact. Her story is well worth reading, and sparkles with humor.
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)