Bombs exploding, violence breaking out in the streets: This is a stereotypical setting for how foreigners view Israel and Jerusalem. The majority of books written about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict only focus on the violence of the Middle Eastern country. Habibi, written by Naomi Shihab Nye, portrays a side of living in Jerusalem that many people neglect. The novel tells the tale about Liyanna, a fourteen-year-old girl from St. Louis, Minnesota, whose family decides to pack up and move to Jerusalem, her father's native city. Liyanna struggles to fit in with her large Arabic family, understand the cultural differences in the torn country, and deal with growing up and adolescence in general.
Habibi portrays life in Israel from a Palestinian's point of view. The stereotyped characters in the story still have to deal with the violence and strict laws that exist in Jerusalem. Habibi portrays mildly how difficult simple tasks are for Arabs in the West Bank, such as passing through hours of checkpoints just to get to work on time. However Nye fulfills her goal in presenting moving and at some points comedic writing about the difference between traditional Arab culture and United States more "modern" culture.
Nye provides the reader with the classic tales and torments of growing up with a twist. Habibi presents the troubles and confusion of love, hate, trying to fit in, and self-discovery that every teenager, mainly girls, go through. The story's setting in Israel adds a little pizzazz to the commonly heard story about the trials and tales of growing up and being a teenager, but the author does not delve deeply into how difficult life is in the country. At certain points the plot tends to drag on as Nye goes into unnecessary detail, however at certain times the story, seems rushed and very vague. Instead of boring the readers with details completely irrelevant to the plot, Nye should have helped the readers of Habibi understand the differences between cultures in Israel, delve deeper into different opinions about the conflict, and paint a clearer picture about life as a Palestinian in Israel.
Habibi is a great tale about the decisions and confusions about growing up and dealing with change. However the book does not delve very deeply into Palestinian culture and the Arab views of the conflict, which was one of the goals of the book. Nye barely skims the surface of the conflict in the region and the difficulty of living in the land torn in two. The story is inconsistent in the speed the author takes the reader through the book. It is however the classic tale of dealing with change and the troubles of teenage life. Readers who want a timeless tale about growing up and the changes that life brings should pick up Habibi and flip through it. However, those curious about the difficult lives of Palestinians in Israel and the traditional Arab culture should pick something else.