The costs of conflicts

The tolls of war, conflict, and instability are innumerable, especially to young people. The following books, three YA novels and one memoir for a slightly younger audience, aim to capture these difficult-to-fathom experiences and their aftermaths. See also Five Questions for Ruta Sepetys about I Must Betray You.

Enduring Freedom
by Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy
Middle School, High School    Algonquin    352 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-64375-040-8    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-64375-163-4    $15.95

Baheer, an Afghan teen, faces a hardscrabble life under the Taliban, while post-9/11 American high-school senior Joe’s college plans are put on pause as he begins his military tour. Joe’s desire for retribution wanes when he is assigned a reconstruction mission instead of fighting on the front lines. As the boys’ paths cross, mistrust clouds their judgment, but an unlikely friendship emerges through their shared experiences of war’s gruesome realities. They realize their interdependence: Baheer hopes to improve his English and find work, while Joe seeks to write about the “unbiased truth” of war. Writing in alternating points of view, the co-authors draw on their real-life friendship (further explored in appended authors’ notes) to tell a touching story about differences and finding common ground. Though regional geopolitics are rendered in easy binaries that gloss over America’s role in the rise of the Taliban, the story effectively focuses on those most affected by violent conflict and the characters’ shift in perspective from prejudice to openness. Joe’s reading of war literature leads him to realize the common hardships people face in a war zone, while Baheer’s engagement with Persian classics, Afghan poetry, and Quranic verses help him understand the humanity of all people. Through their individual reflections, they come to understand that education is the key to rebuilding a society, and they work together toward this goal. SADAF SIDDIQUE

Sugar Town Queens
by Malla Nunn
High School    Putnam    320 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-525-51560-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-51561-6    $10.99

Set in a township in contemporary South Africa, this story revolves around a society still grappling with the effects of a post-apartheid reality. Amandla has never met her father, who is Black. On her fifteenth birthday, her mentally unstable white mother comes home from a trip insisting that if Amandla wears a homemade dress in his favorite color, he will return. The teen is used to her mother’s often strange and secretive behavior, but this time she decides to look for answers to her many questions, especially surrounding her father. After finding a large amount of money and an unknown address hidden in her mother’s purse, she and her friends become unlikely sleuths, unraveling a mystery that is at the core of Amandla’s identity. As the mystery concerning her family tree is gradually revealed, so too is the history of a country that all too recently would have considered her very existence to be illegal. The excitement of the mystery; the memorable cast of characters, particularly the female characters; and the many twists and turns of the plot keep the pages turning until the very end. MONIQUE HARRIS

World in Between: Based on a True Refugee Story
by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion    384 pp.    g
7/21     978-0-358-43987-5    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-44093-2    $9.99

Eleven-year-old Kenan Trebinčević is growing up in Brčko, Bosnia, in 1992. He enjoys his life — home, friends at school, soccer — but as Muslims living in a divided Yugoslavia, he and his family are in danger. Serbs control the military and see Bosnian Muslims as rebels and traitors. Kenan’s friends begin to taunt him at school. Then there is violence in the streets (including a horrifying scene in which his teacher holds a gun to Kenan’s head); homes are burned; entire families are shot. With Serbs having wiped out the family’s bank account, the Trebinčevićs are penniless; they have no running water; and food is scarce. Kenan doesn’t understand: “But we’re all Yugoslavians. How could our own people be hunting us like animals?” Kenan’s family decides to escape from Bosnia, and a nerve-wracking odyssey ensues through dangerous checkpoints to Vienna and on to America. Scenes come alive through the first-person voice and abundant dialogue. This “Muslim-Jewish collaboration” between authors Trebinčević and Shapiro follows after their joint effort on The Bosnia List (2014), an adult memoir. This is a long, intricately detailed narrative that effectively weaves in enough historical background to make events understandable for young readers. (Per an appended author’s note: “All the historical events are true. Some names, dates, and details have been condensed or changed to protect privacy, and for literary reasons.”) DEAN SCHNEIDER

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin
by Kip Wilson
High School    Versify/HarperCollins    416 pp.    g
3/22    978-0-358-44890-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-44776-4    $9.99

In 1932 Berlin, orphaned eighteen-year-old Hilde is seeking work and a purpose. She finds both (perhaps with implausible ease) at Café Lila, a gay nightclub reminiscent of Cabaret’s Kit Kat Club. There she is adopted into a family of queer underground entertainers; falls in love with sweet, sultry chanteuse Rosa; and finds her footing as a singer and songwriter. But even as she enjoys her newfound acceptance, Hilde can’t escape the political tensions that increasingly intrude on her happiness. As the Nazis gather power, Hilde must decide if she can afford to stay loyal to her beloved Berlin or if it is time for her and Rosa, who is Jewish, to flee. Wilson’s (White Rose, rev. 7/19) fluid free-verse novel aptly conveys the liberation and artistry of the time and place (Weimar Republic–era Berlin, in all its gritty, smoky glory), while also making the pages fly. Fans of Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club (rev. 3/21) will enjoy this similarly themed work. Back matter includes an author’s note, selected sources, and a German glossary. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the May 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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