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The White Zone

The White Zone

By: Carolyn Marsden
Publisher: CarolRhoda Books
Publication Date: February 2012
ISBN: 978-0761373834
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: February 2012

Nouri glanced at A'mmo Hakim's white coffin as it was being lowered into the ground amidst the wailing. Women also slapped themselves in the face as an outward expression of their grief, but Nouri had all he could do to hold back the tears. He was his uncle's favorite nephew and the memories ran deep. His cousins Anwar and Jalal were two years younger and didn't realize the impact that a lone Sunni martyr had on the family. It seemed senseless because they were all Muslims, but somehow they "found reasons to hate each other." There was a mustard seed of hate that would soon start to grow in Nouri's heart.

Talib and Nouri were cousins, best of friends, but Talib was half Sunni and half Shiite. Maybe it was because of people like him that he would never ride in A'mmo Hakim's car ever again. It was just a passing thought. Nouri and Talib often played "war" together even though it was all around them. Nouri told Talib that "The infidels kill children. They break down doors and kill whole families." Yeah, but Talib was bold and could get candy from the Americans. "Hello, Mister." Anwar admired his bravery and Talib in turn admired Allah. When the muezzin called he quickly washed and knelt down to pray.

The family started to become unsettled as petty arguments erupted. It was because of Talib, the half-blood. His Mama, Fatima, was a Sunni, but his Baba, Nazar, was Nouri's Baba's brother-in-law and they were Shiite. The tension would escalate, but what was going to happen? Food was as short as everyone's temper and something had to be done. Karada was not a place for Talib's family and soon they would have to head to Mutanabbi Street where Sunni and Shiite got along. "I'm afraid that we--our children--will no longer be safe if a Sunni is welcome in our home ...." Even Nouri's Mama was afraid. And then there was the school teacher who met Talib at the door. Would Nouri ultimately betray his beloved cousin? Would Allah?

This undoubtedly was a sobering read at best and as the tale progressed I was as flabbergasted as any of the characters, unsure as to how and why family, friends, and neighbors began to turn against one another. Marsden's masterful crafting of the events and expression of the mentality of Iraqi Muslims, both Shiite and Sunni, will definitely bring an understanding of their culture to the young adult reader. The fear, determination, and doubt young Talib began to experience elicited sympathy from me as I read, yet I somehow felt the same toward Nouri. This is one of the most powerful YA novels I've read in some time. Simply stunning.

Quill says: This is a startling commentary on two innocent casualties of war, cousins Nouri and Talib.

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