Author: Patricia Dunn
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: E-review copy from the publisher, through NetGalley
From the cover:
A troubled teen sent to Cairo finds that revolution is everywhere — including in herself.
When her first party ends in jail, Mariam thinks things can’t possibly get worse. But when her parents send her to her grandmother in Cairo, she is sure her life is over. Her Sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and Mariam is convinced that the only sights she’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her grandmother’s apartment.
It turns out her Sittu’s not so bad. They ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.
“Sometimes a moment can change your life,” her Sittu says, but it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, Mariam finds herself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.
Oh yeah, and meeting the cutest guy she’s ever seen. Falling in love for the first time. And having her first kiss!
When I went to Egypt back in the spring, you could see the aftermath of the revolution almost everywhere. In particular, in Cairo, you could still see the remnants of the protests in Tahrir Square, walk through the military barricades in the surrounding streets, and hear people everywhere talking about how life has changed so far. It was this personal connection that made me even more interested to read Rebels by Accident, a story about two girls who are transplanted to live with Mariam’s grandmother in Cairo as “punishment” for their actions back home in America. Mariam’s parents ostensibly want her to learn about her Egyptian roots, which she has until now tried to ignore, and also to learn what responsible and appropriate behaviour are. Her friend Deanna is sent along both to keep her company and to allow her to learn more about Egypt, which she has previously expressed an interest in.
The problem is that, while Mariam and Deanna are in Cairo, revolution breaks out, and they get somewhat caught up in it. And, at the same time, Mariam is trying to reconcile her American-ness with her Egyptian-ness, and her father’s stories about her “ultra-strict” grandmother with the loving Sittu she is faced with upon her arrival.
There are good and bad things about this book. Let’s start with the good: Rebels by Accident does a great job of portraying Mariam’s paradigm shift between seeing Egypt and Egyptians as “backwards” and ultimately starting to identify herself as something more complex than “just American”. One of the things that Dunn did particularly well was show the challenges that most of the characters – including, but not limited to, Mariam and Deanna – faced in their lives. There’s a lot for them to deal with in the book, and there were times when there was great emotional depth showing through in the narrative. And overall, I think that the book is simply a great book for teens to learn more about the reasons for the revolution in Egypt, without being overwhelmed with details and political context. Rather, Dunn manages to introduce the issues in a non-threatening and entertaining way, engaging readers without pushing them too far with graphic violence or detailed analysis.
Sadly, the events of the story are a bit far-fetched. It’s not like Egypt was necessarily stable enough immediately preceding the election that most American parents would send their children to live there for any length of time. Also, the entire book takes place in the span of less than a week – and so much is packed in there. There’s also a heavy focus on love interests in the book, something that irked me at times. But all of these negatives seem like things that might be overlooked by an average teenage reader, and since that’s the intended demographic for Rebels by Accident, perhaps it doesn’t matter as much as I think it does!
Whether you’re a teenager or not, I think you’ll probably enjoy Rebels by Accident. It’s not going to knock you completely off your feet, but it’s a great primer on some of the issues involved in the Egyptian Revolution, particularly for teenagers but also for adults who might not be as familiar with them. Give it a try – with a flexible attitude towards the timeline and believability of some things.