Imagine living in a world where you've never been to school, never ridden in a car, or seen a TV. Zulaikha's life as a girl in An Daral, Afghanistan is difficult enough between all the chores she must do every day and the way her stepmother orders her around. But Zulaikha also must live with a cleft lip and twisted teeth that stick out enough for all the neighborhood boys to torment her. They call her "Donkeyface" and throw dirt at her. Even her own brothers, whom she cares for every day, disrespect her.
All Zulaikha wants is to be normal, maybe even pretty like her sister, and marry a handsome man who will take good care of her. But when American soldiers notice her and offer to fly her in a helicopter and give her an operation to fix her lip, will all of Zulaikha's problems immediately be solved?
This book is actually based on a true story. Here is the author, Trent Reedy, describing his inspiration for writing the book.
"In 2004 and 2005, when I was serving with the army in support of the reconstruction effort in western Afghanistan, I was often dismayed when I saw the aftermath of the terrible injustices women and girls had suffered under the oppression of the brutal Taliban. . . When my unit encountered a young girl named Zulaikha who suffered from a cleft lip and crooked teeth, we knew we had to help. My fellow soldiers and I pooled our money to pay for her flight to our main base in Afghanistan, where an army doctor had volunteered to conduct the needed corrective surgery. I was happy, feeling that we had really made a direct, positive difference. Throughout all of my encounters with Zulaikha, I was impressed by her courage and dignity. She covered her birth defect, but otherwise she met our gaze, answered our questions, and did not shy away from us, even though I imagine we could be quite frightening with our body armor and weapons. For me, Zulaikha began to represent the indomitable spirit of all Afghans and of Afghan women in particular.
After her surgery, Zulaikha's problems with her upper lip, teeth, and nose had vanished almost as if she had always been completely normal. Her physical transformation was amazing, but perhaps more striking was her emotional change. She no longer hid her mouth in shame. The very best moment of my time in Afghanistan was seeing Zulaikha smile."
Read Words in the Dust for an honest and brutal look into the human faces behind the war in Afghanistan.
— Melissa, Scholastic Booktalker