I’d certainly heard a lot about this title in advance of picking it up. Fuse 8 sung its praises in a review in the fall, and at the end of her review, offered many excellent related links that anyone who has read the book will enjoy: SLJ author interview, video links, even a link to book-inspired recipes. The memoir is also an MG/YA Nonfiction Cybils Finalist this year.
In brief, Ibtisam Barakat is a Palestinian writer, and in Tasting the Sky, she recounts her childhood in her war-torn country. She writes about the Six-Day War and its aftermath, and describes so many unbelievable hardships that she and her family experienced during this time. Barakat’s writing has been described by many reviewers as poetic, spare and eloquent, and I must agree. This is an easy memoir to read for its accomplished prose, which is a blessing, as the subject is at times desperately sad. I could name many features of this text that were moving and powerful, however, I especially believed in the childlike perspective Barakat crafted here. I put down her story feeling as if I had seen what a child had seen in war. Barakat manages to write in the voice of her childhood self. This makes her story all the more compelling and quite heart-breaking.
You would be forgiven for imagining that this is not an easy read for a young person. This is true, but I found a great deal of hope in Tasting the Sky. In spite of living during terrible circumstances, this family does know contentment and love. Barakat grows up to become an advocate for social justice, and this fact demonstrates her profound belief and faith in humanity’s power to change injustice to understanding. This is not a story of despair.
Barakat’s story is also about the power of writing to mend broken pasts. At the end of her memoir, she writes an ode of sorts to Alef, the first letter in the Arabic alphabet. I loved this stanza:
That a thread
Of a story
At the end of her book, Barakat offers a collection of resources for readers who wish to learn more about the issues related to her story. All of her suggestions interest me, but I took a look at one in particular, the website for the film: “Promises”. I’m going to try to seek out this documentary because it looks incredible. I imagine that it covers a lot of the same ground as Deborah Ellis’s controversial book, Three Wishes.
I didn’t read books like this when I was a kid, other than The Diary of Anne Frank, which affected me more powerfully than perhaps any other childhood book. I didn’t grow up in a family where politics or world issues were talked about around the dinner table. The opportunity for young people to glimpse the challenges that other children face, and the courage and fear that they feel in such circumstances, is one that kids deserve. Tasting the Sky is a book I would like many young people to read and to talk about together.