Review of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

As Long as the Lemon Trees GrowAs Long as the Lemon Trees Grow
by Zoulfa Katouh
High School    Little, Brown    432 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-316-35137-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978‑0‑316-35161‑4    $9.99

When a revolution is ignited in Syria in 2011 to oust Assad’s regime (“no Syrian family has evaded the dictatorship’s cruelty”), the government responds by detaining, torturing, and bombing civilians and using chemical attacks. A year into the siege of the city of Homs, eighteen-year-old Salama, who has completed one year of pharmacy school, is a volunteer at a hospital where she tends to wounded patients and even performs surgeries due to a shortage of doctors. Her mother has been killed in a bombing, and her father and brother are detained and presumed dead; Salama now cares for her pregnant sister-in-law, Layla. A specter named Khawf (fear in Arabic) visits and shows Salama devastating images of her future if she and Layla don’t leave Syria, but she is conflicted out of a sense of duty to her patients. Amid the desperate situation, a chaste, halal romance develops between Salama and Kenan, a YouTube war documentarian, culminating in marriage. Salama is at a more mature phase of life than many YA protagonists, as the war forces her to a level of personal and professional growth beyond her years. The novel is full of striking details about living under siege, with a focus on the heroic deeds of medical professionals, but it also probes bigger-picture issues around PTSD, survivor’s guilt, national loyalty, and how morality stretches for the sake of survival. An unflinching representation of the early days of the Syrian revolution that incorporates sophisticated and unexpected narrative techniques and surprising revelations.

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Calling Caldecott co-author Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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