Fact #1: Not all Iranians eat falafel.
Fact #2: Not all Iranians ride on camels.
Fact #3: Not all Iranian kill political opponents, suppress women’s rights, and hold fifty-two American citizens as hostages.
When her family moves to sunny Newport Beach, California, Zomorod Yousefzadeh is determined to become a normal American girl. At first, things are looking promising—her teachers call her Cindy, she joins the Girl Scout Troop, and eats tacos at a friend’s house. As long as her mom isn’t offering stuffed grape leaves to the neighbors, Zomorod feels like she’s starting to fit in.
Then, without warning, the shah in Iran is overthrown and fifty-two American citizens are taken hostage. Suddenly, everyone is asking Zomorod about her country’s new oppressive leader. As the hostage crisis continues, people start to hurl tomatoes and litter her driveway. Her mother cries all day, and her father loses his job. When will Zomorod ever be able to live a “regular” life?
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel provides a refreshing narrative about a Middle Eastern girl adapting to a new environment. As a bicultural girl growing up in the United States, I especially related to Zomorod’s embarrassment about her mother’s unwillingness to learn English and make American friends. That being said, because the book follows a middle school protagonist, adolescents looking for emotionally complex reflections on cultural identity might find this book dissatisfying. Its simple sentences structures and short chapters, though, make the text accessible to adolescents reading below grade level.
This semi-autobiographical novel provides an authentic voice for children caught between two cultures. Readers can also learn about real historical events from a first-person perspective and understand how ignorance and xenophobia can lead to hate crime. Especially because of the rampant Islamophobia in America today, Zomorod’s honest story is relevant, eye opening, and valuable.
Dumas, Firoozeh. 2016. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.