Starting at a new school can be really hard when you’re a kid. I did that in high school – and it was actually the first day of high school that Kelly and I met. We were both kind of new, having not gone to the same middle school as most of our classmates. Being the new kid is scary, and on that first day of high school I was terrified. This is the heart of Firoozeh Dumas’s story, It Ain’t So Awful Falafel. Zomorod and her parents have moved to California from Iran. It’s much more than just moving from one school to another. She honestly couldn’t be more different than her classmates.
Her father is an engineer and had accepted a job in southern California. It’s the late 70s, and unluckily, they are in the U.S. during the Iranian hostage crisis. Her family is stuck in the U.S., and even if they wanted to return home to Iran, the country that they once loved and called home is gone. They become further alienated from the neighborhood and those around them, and Zomorod (who decides to go by Cindy) is struggling more than ever.
Cindy starts junior high with no friends, and not the right kind of clothes. It’s hard to fit in in Newport Beach (that hasn’t changed much!), especially when you’re from Iran. Her dad speaks English well, but her mother refuses to learn. This keeps her cooped up at home, and whenever they venture out together – or someone comes to the door – Cindy acts as her interpreter. This is a role she does not enjoy. Her mother misses home terribly, and in addition to her not learning English, she basically refuses to leave the house, and makes no friends while they are in the U.S. Cindy is trying to fit in desperately, and her mother is doing the opposite.
I was really surprised by this story. Pleasantly surprised. I feel like I’ve been in Cindy’s shoes – but I haven’t. I’m thankful for that. Although it’s not a memoir, and is just a work of fiction, the author herself is Iranian, and I have to think that part of her own experiences have shaped this story. I know there are so many kids like Cindy – and adults too. She can’t fit in, even though she tries, living in in a new, strange place, she remains an outsider. Her family faces discrimination, even though kids at school and neighbors in thei community have done almost nothing to get to know them.
She eventually finds a best friend. Part of this story seems so timely. Reminding readers to accept and appreciate others’ differences.