Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
Reading this book took me three hours -- I could not put it down. Intended for young adults, it is a novel that should be read by young adults (middle school, high school) and adults of all ages.
The author, Trent Reedy grew up in Dysart, Iowa and joined the Iowa National Guard to help pay his way through the University of Iowa. He became an English teacher in Riverside, Iowa and dreamed of becoming writer -- a dream he had had since fourth grade. In 2004 he received a call and shortly he found himself a member of the Iowa National Guard serving in Afghanistan as a member of the peacekeeping mission. While there he receives a book from his wife -- it is Katherine Paterson's The Bridge to Terabithia. The book, about unconditional friendship, lingers in his mind and inspires him to write to Paterson. Through their letters the two of them develop a friendship of sorts. The book rekindled his desire to write and the experiences while in Afghanistan helped provide him with inspiration and events around which to wrap a story that he felt must be told. When he returned from war Paterson helped him arrange to enter the Vermont College of Fine
Arts. It was during that study for a graduate degree in writing for children and young adults that he began work on the manuscript -- the manuscript was subjected to many rejections before being accepted (and published) by Scholastic. Only then was Katherine Paterson asked to read the manuscript. She was impressed and wrote the introduction of the book.
I was impressed too. The book is compelling and provides a perspective that gives us a look inside the world of an Afghan family, through the words of a young female. Surely it was difficult for a Midwestern middle-aged (he's 32) man to write from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old female growing up in a culture half-way around the world. Ideally the story would be written by an Afghan woman who could more accurately deal with the nuances of growing up in Afghanistan and how families felt when the Americans rolled into their cities, and all the cultural details. But various international organizations estimate that illiteracy among Afghan females reaches anywhere from 87% to 99%. It is important that the story of women in cultures such as the Afghanistan culture are told -- and to do so requires that for now, their stories are told by those who can tell their story. Someday, thanks to the schools being built for girls, perhaps Afghanistan girls will be able to tell their own stories in their own words.
This book is a compelling read. I'd like to claim him as an Iowa author as he was raised and attended school here; but he and his wife now live in Washington state, so maybe Iowa native ... . But I feel connected in other ways. At the Vermont College of Fine Arts Reedy worked with my good friend Jane Kurtz (www.janekurtz.com) and in many ways I find Words in the Dust to be as illuminating as I found Jane's book The Storyteller's Beads (Harcourt, 1998). Jane's book is set in Ethiopia during the unrest during the 1980s. Both authors built great stories set in cultures about which many of us have little or no knowledge. Their books contribute to our understanding of those cultures, their history, and the dynamics of events. In addition to Kurtz's book and Reedy's title consider reading Shabanu:
Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples (1989) which takes place
Another connection is that my son, as a green beret, served in almost every hot spot I can name during his 22 year career in the U.S. Army -- he was in Serbia, Bosnia, Germany and missions in Italy, Uzbekista, and Iraq. He is a great writer (IMHO) -- writing several essays that have been published on the Real Combat Life website (www.realcombatlife.com). Some of his experiences are riveting, so perhaps someday...
But I digress.
Trent Reedy's book, Words in the Dust, will be difficult to top but he is working on his second title, Stealing Air -- a book set in Iowa.
Check out this page for more information and Reedy's own website.