Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Release Date: August 26, 2014
In this brief novel, told in short chapters by the acclaimed poet and National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye, Aref Al-Amri says good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is Naomi Shihab Nye’s first novel set in the Middle East since her acclaimed Habibi.
Aref Al-Amri does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Siddi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase—but he refuses. Finally, she calls Siddi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Siddi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Siddi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Siddi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.
This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. Naomi Shihab Nye’s warmth, attention to detail, and belief in the power of empathy and connection shines from every page. Features black-and-white spot art and decorations by Betsy Peterschmidt.
This is a fantastic example of diversity in Middle Grade and it was a truly beautiful story. This is a short novel for sure, and it surrounds around Aref, a small boy who will be leaving his home town that he loves for Ann Arbor, Michigan. The more he hears about Ann Arbor, the more he doubts if he wants to go, the one saving grace the state seems to offer is their turtles... and even THAT doesn't seem like enough.
Aref is a very funny protagonist. I found his actions to often make me laugh out loud and reading it I truly felt that I had stepped into the mind of a young child. One of his treasures is his rock collection which he can only part with faced with distance from his truest friends.
The strength in this novel lies in the characterization. Aref is relatable to any child in any part of the world and reading it makes the similarities very clear. He is scared and a afraid of being lonely in a country that he doesn't know. This fear is real for every child and every adult around the world. Despite the geographical and cultural differences we are all the same, and that is where the true strength in this novel lies.
The main issue I found with this story was that it did tend to lag a bit, and for those who don't take interest into the cultural aspects this may be a problem. Ultimately, I found it to be very enjoyable. Aref is extremely likable. Little things he does, like write down facts he learns each day, allow us to get to know him and understand how he is feeling.
I definitely recommend it to the middle grade reader in your life.