Habibi (Review)

Book cover for "Habibi" by Naomi Shihab Nye.Title: Habibi

Author: Naomi Shihab Nye

Narrator: Christina Moore

Publication Year: 1997

Pages: 272

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family’s Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers, and speak a language she can’t understand. It isn’t until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?

As far as YA books about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are concerned,Habibi isn’t bad. It’s not my favourite, but it takes quite a bit to surpass Where the Streets Had A Name in my eyes.

One of the things that I didn’t expect, and this may be a positive or negative factor in you deciding whether or not to read the book, is that there’s barely any focus on religion in this book at all. Rather, Habibi is mostly a cross between typical “coming of age” and “fish out of water” narratives, with a little bit of discussion of the conflict, but almost completely focused on ethnic rather than religious identities.

The author uses one device that I particularly liked: at the start of each chapter, there is a one-liner that’s supposed to have been written by the main character into her journal, the dangling first line to a possible story. I liked the way that these tied into the events to come in each chapter, though at times they were a bit transparent.

To be honest, I would definitely recommend this book … but not particularly in its audiobook format. For starters, the narrator doesn’t seem to be able to pull of quite a few of the Arabic words, including really common names for some of the characters, and it just irked me every time I heard them mispronounced. The accents used for the “ethnic” characters, as well, are just a bit off … I could believe the Israeli accents, for example, but the Arab ones didn’t sound much different from those. And there were times during the book when the accent or intonation for one character were accidentally carried over into the dialogue for a different character, or when it simply wasn’t consistently used when speaking as the character. This made the listening experience more halting then I like.

Having said that, I think you’d enjoy Habibi a lot as a print or ebook, particularly if you’re looking for a somewhat soft-hitting (read: not filled with violence) narrative about the conflict for a young reader. It’s a good option to go with.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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