9780544612310It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
By Firoozeh Dumas
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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A Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2016

Description
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.

Firoozeh Dumas is a New York Times bestselling author born in Abadan, Iran, and who moved to Whittier, California at the age of seven. After a two-year stay, she and her family moved back to Iran and lived in Ahvaz and Tehran. Two years later, they moved back to Whittier, then to Newport Beach. She lives in Munich, Germany, with her husband and three children.


Reviews & Accolades
“Dumas (Funny in Farsi) sets her first middle grade novel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, focusing on the Iranian Revolution and the 444 days American hostages were held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Born in Iran, Zomorod Yousefzadeh rechristens herself Cindy when her family moves from Compton, Calif., to Newport Beach. She struggles with the usual new-girl problems, but hers are compounded by being an immigrant from a country unfamiliar to most Americans. Zomorod’s situation takes on fear and tension when the Iranian Revolution breaks out; she and her family struggle with anxiety over friends and relatives at home, as well as their own precarious future in America after her engineer father loses his job for political reasons. Conversations often turn into history and culture lessons, though they evolve naturally within the plot and deliver information that remains relevant today. Filled with humorous touches and authentic cultural references, Dumas’s story will resonate not just with young immigrants but with any readers trying to adapt to new situations.” —Publishers Weekly

“Insightful, sobering, and hilarious.” —People magazine

“After a rocky start, Cindy (Zomorod to her parents) finds a comfortable niche in her California middle school until political upheaval and revolution in Iran reach the United States, threatening her future and her family’s safety. Moving to Newport Beach, she renames herself Cindy, to avoid hearing teachers stumble over Zomorod (“emerald” in Persian), prompting the ridicule of kids like Bill (whose name means “shovel” in Persian). Her engineer dad, who loves to talk about the oil industry, and unhappy mom, who won’t learn English, pose bigger obstacles to fitting in, as she trenchantly describes: “It’s not like I don’t love them. I just want to hide them until they stop being embarrassing.” Few Americans in the 1970s know Iran, often wrongly assuming it’s populated by Arabs or that her family is Mexican. Acquiring a peer group, Cindy’s introduced to Scouting and sailing. Her parents are no fans of the shah, but their hopes for Iran’s future are dashed with the Islamic Revolution and its brutal aftermath. They fear for the safety of friends and family in Iran, then for their own as they experience the best and worst of their adopted culture. Cindy narrates in the present tense, her affection for Iran just as palpable as her engagement with the moment. On her own journey to maturity, Cindy deftly guides young readers through Iran’s complicated realities in this fresh take on the immigrant experience—authentic, funny, and moving from beginning to end.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“In Dumas’s first foray into middle grade fiction, readers follow Zomorod Yousefzadeh through middle school in Newport Beach, CA, during the Iran hostage crisis. Zomorod, who goes by Cindy (like in The Brady Bunch), and her family are from Iran, living in America while her father works to build an oil refinery in their home country with American engineers. While the Yousefzadehs are able to fly under the radar in their early days in America, mostly being mistaken for Mexican, their entire situation changes when Iranian students storm the U.S. Embassy and take American hostages. Facing hostile racism and the loss of their only source of income, Cindy’s family learns what it means to stick together, to create the best of an awful situation, and to embrace their heritage while incorporating new customs and friendships into their lives. This title reads more like a memoir than narrative fiction, which makes sense given Dumas’s previous adult titles, Funny in Farsi (2003) and Laughing Without an Accent (2008, both Villard). Although the dialogue sometimes borders on textbooklike explanations of Iranian history, this tactic might be necessary for young readers to truly understand the underlying problems in later action. Dumas gives each short chapter a clever title, includes humorous asides throughout the narration, and keeps readers engaged with the very real and relatable difficulties of finding friends after moving, dealing with family issues both domestic and abroad, and discovering one’s own identity in middle school. VERDICT For large middle grade collections looking to widen their diverse, upper middle grade offerings. Hand to fans of Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala (Little, Brown, 2014) or Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly (HarperCollins, 2015).”
School Library Journal

“Dumas’ semi-autobiographical novel is both funny and affecting…Readers will be thoroughly invested in Cindy’s story, whether holding their breath or laughing out loud, and always hoping that the Yousefzadehs will come out on top.”
Booklist, Starred Review

“[It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel] is funny, affecting, and nuanced…The novel doesn’t sugarcoat the issues, but it balances these serious notes with preteen antics and melodramas that Blume would be proud of; Cindy’s voice will undoubtedly draw in readers from all backgrounds.”
Horn Book

“Firoozeh Dumas’s unique gift is her ability to use her wry, bold, but always gentle wit to tell serious stories about family, heritage, and loss. . . . In this era of suspicion and paranoia, [this book] offers a tender and compassionate glimpse into the immigrant experience.” —Khaled Hosseini, bestselling author of The Kite Runner

“This book is a sheer delight—rambunctious and rich. . . . Firoozeh Dumas writes with the perfect light touch that makes us wonder once again: Who is running the big world and why not this person, please?”  —Naomi Shihab Nye, novelist and poet

“[A]n honest, witty, and moving portrayal of what it means to be an Iranian immigrant in the late 1970s, during the Iran hostage crisis.”—Scholastic Teacher Magazine

Groups Represented
Iranian American

Themes
Theme: Cross-Group Friendship
Theme: Education & Literacy
Theme: Family Separation
Theme: Immigration
Theme: Multicultural Friendship

Setting
United States (California)

Engagement Projects & Resources
View & Download the Educator’s Guide