Review of Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine

barakat_balcony-on-the-moonBalcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine
by Ibtisam Barakat
Middle School, High School    Ferguson/Farrar    223 pp.
10/16    978-0-374-30251-1    $17.99    g

In this follow-up to her first memoir (Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood), and beginning where that book left off, Barakat leads readers through her adolescent years in the West Bank during the 1970s and early 1980s. Family and school are central to Ibtisam’s life, from sibling relationships to fighting between parents; from striving for the best grades to earning a coveted teaching qualification. The two threads intertwine as Ibtisam’s mother decides to return to school, starting high school when her daughter does, and when Ibtisam, on the verge of leaving for college, teaches her illiterate grandmother the alphabet. Although Israeli-Palestinian relations form an inescapable part of life in Ramallah, Barakat presents war and occupation from a young person’s perspective, focusing on concrete details (such as checkpoints and the difficulty of sending mail to Arab countries) rather than the larger political conflict. The present-tense narration is jarring at first but allows for vivid, immediate prose (“I think about that house every day, but it is no longer made of stone. Now it is made of memories…”) that creates a portrait of an innocent yet engaged young woman.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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