Imagine being forced to drop out of school, leave your family, and work in a foreign city at the age of 15. For Faten, this suddenly becomes her reality. Forced by her father to leave her Lebanese village and work as a maid for a family in Beirut, Faten struggles with finding her identity in a place so far from anything she’s known before.
“What if [I] opened the car door and ran toward the sea?” she asks herself. Faten wrestles with her “prisoner” lifestyle, with no one but the wealthy family she works for and their two spoiled girls to keep her company.
But Faten is far too ambitious to be content as a maid for the rest of her life. Through befriending her neighbor’s son, Marwan, an engineering student at the local university, she plans to continue her education and become a nurse. Marwan helps by providing her with study guides and driving her to school to take the test. Before long, Faten realizes that she is falling in love with Marwan, and suspects that he is too.
To achieve her dreams, not only must she go against the wishes of her father, but she must navigate her way through war torn Lebanon to find freedom herself. Her ambition carries her each step of the way, despite the many challenges and problems that arise from her pursuit of education. Her employers feel betrayed that she has been studying for the exam and fire her on the spot. Not only does she now not have money to give her father each month (as was their arrangement) but she must face the full brunt of his wrath when she returns home.
Despite the job loss, Faten’s intelligence and drive land her a job at a hospital- just where she wanted to be! She tries to reconnect with Marwan after having been in her village for several weeks. She soon finds out that he is facing family pressures of his own: his parents have arranged a marriage for him. Marwan now feel trapped by his family’s expectations and as a result, breaks off his friendship with Faten.
Pushing aside the loss she feels, Faten reflects on her new found independence. “I have to be strong and know how to use my freedom wisely.” She has come too far to let anything stop her- Faten’s strength has multiplied since she passed the exams and began working at the hospital. She is able to stand up to her father, gain the right to retain her own wages, and get an apartment with a friend.
At the end of the novel, Faten returns to the sea, one of her favorite places, and feels the full extent of her freedom. “Faten gazes out at the sea. She watches the waves as they rush to the shore, hit the big rocks, the spray her with the salty water.” Suddenly she hears a voice call her name from behind. As she turns to answer the call “their eyes meet, and the look between them hangs in the air for what seems like an eternity.” She notices that he’s “not engaged, not married.”
Does she give him a second chance?
Sharafeddine’s ending leaves you in awe of Faten’s triumph and ambition. This coming-of-age novel is highly inspiring, beautifully written, and will leave you with a sense of purpose and gratitude. If realistic fiction is your thing, then this book is for you.
Come to The Vault- we have it ready to check out on our New Teen Books shelf!