Randa Jarrar, September 2008. Feisty, smart-aleck Nidali is thirteen the year her hometown of Kuwait is invaded by Saddam Hussein. Her family — including an abusive father, a confused but loving mother, and a little brother she mainly ignores — moves first to Egypt and then to Texas. The war and politics are relegated to the background in this coming-of-age story in which Nidali never actually quite comes of age. When Nidali describes her home life and her frequent fights with her parents for independence, she could be any girl in an American suburb, except that Dad’s rants are often anti-U.S.
It’s Nidali’s attitude toward her sex life that really makes her character shine. When she describes masturbation via the bathroom bidet, there is no confession in her tone (and her dismay upon moving to Texas and finding that American bathrooms lack this fixture is hilarious); when she manipulates boys into making out with her, there is no sense of shame. However, experimenting with a female friend makes her nervous. “I’ll go to hell, I thought. I liked boys, I assured myself, because I did. I wanted to kiss them. But I wanted to be the first one Jiji kissed instead of some slimy toad of a guy.”
Parts of A Map of Home are gross; parts are hot; parts are violent in the way you’d expect when the story takes place in wartime and features an angry, vicious father. The result is a passionate narrative by an intense and lovable character. Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.