From School Library Journal
Grade 6–8—Told primarily through emails, this is the story of two young people on opposite sides of a political chasm: Naïm is Palestinian and lives in Gaza, and Tal is Israeli and lives in Jerusalem. Brought up in a family committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace, 17-year-old Tal writes a note, puts it in a bottle, and asks her brother, who is serving in the Israeli army, to throw the bottle into the sea in Gaza. Instead, he places it in the sand on the beach, and it is picked up by Naïm. Thus begins the email correspondence between "Gazaman" and "Bakbouk." As they slowly feel each other out, the teens begin to develop trust, friendship, and perhaps even something more. Their thoughts about their lives and about the political situation are carefully presented, and their musings and growing relationship constitute the central action of the novel. This smooth and unobtrusive translation starts out slowly and takes nearly one hundred pages to reach out and grab readers. The second half is compelling, but the ending is abrupt and feels unfinished. The book's appeal is likely to lie in the fact that these two characters are regular kids, yet are unusual in their sense of themselves as different from the people around them. They are caught in a situation not of their own making, they are not understood by the world, and they show, as young people often do, the simple and direct humanity of people of good will.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
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Zenatti’s Batchelder Honor Book, When I Was a Soldier (2005), is a memoir about her conflicts while serving in the Israeli army. This docu-novel is more messagey. It begins when 17-year-old Tal, in Tel Aviv, sends out a bottle with a peace message that includes her e-mail address. Naïm, 20, finds it on the beach in Gaza, and replies. Contrived setup aside, readers will be caught by the immediate personal and political drama, as the two young people speak in instant messages, e-mails, and first-person narratives with anger, sympathy, humor, and sorrow about their history and their daily lives—what separates them (they live just 40 miles apart, but it feels like 6,000), and what connects them, including their shared opposition to fundamentalists and their longing for peace. They also worry about each other, especially when Tal witnesses a bombing in her neighborhood. The Romeo-and-Juliet scenario, translated from the French, will draw teens, as will the urgent headline issues. Grades 7-12. --Hazel Rochman