As we near the end of the challenge, book five takes us to modern day Egypt.
In a world with so much access to information and history, the youth in the modern day know very little of their family heritage. For me, not having the internet until high school age meant I had to do it the old fashioned way. I had to ask my grandparents questions.
For instance, I know that my grandmother lost her teddy bear over the rail of the steam ship crossing the Atlantic, on the way to England. That was in 1919. She was two and she tried to climb up the railing to get her teddy. My great grandmother stopped her. Until the day my grandmother passed, every time she saw a teddy bear she told me of her teddy at the bottom of the ocean.
What bothered me most about the novel Rebels by Accidentby Patricia Dunn, is that Mariam, just shy of turning sixteen, knows next to nothing about her family. Her parents are from Egypt, of the Muslim faith, and are the only family Mariam has contact with.
Mariam is more concerned with living the “traditional” American life of a sixteen year old than understanding herself or her culture. She is even ashamed of her appearance because it makes her stand out.
This being the basis of the novel. Mariam is so concerned to lead, as she calls it, a normal life, that she sneaks out to a party with her best friend Deanna.
The book starts with Mariam and Deanna in a holding cell. The party gets broken up by the cops. Underage drinking and the marijuana found at the party lands all the attendees in jail.
Mariam’s parents are at their wits end with her behavior. Mariam believes that she has only disobeyed once, so she will get grounded. But her parents feel that she needs some grounding in a different sense.
So along with Deanna, Mariam is sent to live with her sittu (grandmother) in Egypt.
Now normally family is not considerate enough, when they pack you up to live with a relative, to send your best friend along too. However Deanna’s mother is a very busy lawyer in New York. Since she is so busy, and Deanna’s father is unknown (sperm bank donation), she thinks it’s best if Deanna goes along.
Mariam knows very little about her sittu, however from the comments her father makes, things are not looking good. When Mariam gets to Egypt, things are not what she once thought.
Her sittu is, dare I say, cool. Sittu has Facebook. Mariam is not permitted to have Facebook. Sittu tweets and is a strong Muslim woman. Mariam admits that what little she knows about Muslims are what she sees on television, or the little information that her parents allow her to have access to, about world news.
While in Egypt, there is a young activist that makes a YouTube video for a call to protest the police brutality and the government’s wrong-doing. Deanna is adamant that she wants to be a part of the protest. Mariam is not so sure. Protests in Egypt turn violent, even though they started out as peaceful.
As always with a teen novel, there is a boy. But I’m glad that even though Hassan, the boy in question, is going to the protest, Mariam does not weigh this in her decision for staying or going. I am glad that Mariam was forced into this journey to understand herself more.
This book made me stand back and think of how much I really know about my heritage. A lot, it seems. My grandparents liked to converse. Unlike the youth of today, when going to family functions, there was no cell phones, video games or television channels that numbered more than one hundred.
We watched home movies, got out family photo albums and told embarrassing stories. Just like Mariam, the younger generations are losing touch with who they are.
Do we blame them? Yes and no. Yes, because they should want to know, and be proud of, who they are and the legacy that has come before them. Alas, no. Families don’t get together like mine do. We celebrate every holiday and birthday. I visit my grandparents just because. As a society we have put the world outside at a higher value than the world within our own walls.
What started out as anger toward Mariam and her ignorance and shame of her culture, turned into sadness. I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t know who they really are. This book may read like a fun, across the world trip for two friends but it brings up many social questions.
Religion, bullying and human rights are all spoken with wisdom from sittu.
This is truly a fiction book in the teen literature that I have never read before. I’m inspired by it. I hope you will be too.Yesterday’s teen book challenge was The Young Elites by Marie Lu, what will tomorrow’s be?