Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name-Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi.
As I started reading Firoozeh Dumas’ middle grade debut, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, I was struck by reading memories. Of nostalgia, of my youth, of coming-of-age, of the awkwardness in being a young teen girl and trying to fit in. I thought for a moment about what I was remembering, and then it came to me: Judy Blume. Growing up, I read (and reread) Blume’s titles, most especially Just As Long As We’re Together and Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. In a tone and voice that reminds me so much of Blume’s terrific middle grade offerings, Dumas’ has crafting a meaningful, moving, and funny story here with the late 1970’s-set semi-autobiographical It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel.
We meet our eleven-year-old protagonist, Zomorod Yousefzadeh, as she embarks on her fourth move with her parents. Born in Iran, Zomorod has lived in Compton, California; spent time in Iran; moved back to Compton; and is now on her way to Newport Beach. In her candid and quick first-person narrative, we soon learn that Zomorod appreciates so much of America…including names that are the almost the opposite of her own. Unofficially taking the first name of ‘Cindy’ so as to fit in better with her new neighbors and classmates, readers become cognizant of the fact that the matter of Cindy simply being from Iran makes her standout in ways she would rather not. In addition to the fact of classmates (along with adults) making grand assumptions (and incorrect and hurtful stereotyping) about ‘what Iranians are like’, Cindy and her parents are living in California during the time of the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis. While Cindy tries to make her own way in school, making better friends, going to camp, shopping at Sears, contemplating crushes, she is thwarted by crises in her birth country, her parents’ fears of a future, and vindictive reactions to her and her family during the period of time when American hostages are taken. Dumas does a solid job here in proportionally focusing on the two major sides of Cindy’s story in order to make a poignant and important story maintain some buoyancy.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel. Dumas does a wonderful job in creating such an interesting, genuine, and understandable young heroine in Cindy. The author crafts a story that tackles the ups and downs of younger teens, the drama, the fights, the solid friendships, with that of specific significant historical and cultural events playing out. Readers who like their middle grade reads with a good dose of authenticity, meaning and humour, those who tend towards children’s historical fiction, or those readers who enjoy the strong writing of authors such as Laura Amy Schlitz, Lisa Graff, Rebecca Stead, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, or Gennifer Chlodenko might especially adore this title.
I received a copy of this courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.