Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Enemy Territory, by Sharon E. McKay (Annick Press, 2012)

Recommended for ages 9-14.

Given the complexity of the topic, it's perhaps not surprising that there's not a plethora of novels for young people on the Israeli-Palistinian conflict.  It's a topic that ignites fires of passion on both sides, and what a challenge for a novelist to try to present a balanced point of view in a book for young people.

I was very impressed with Sharon McKay's take on this topic.  She presents us with two teenaged boys, one Jewish Israeli and one Palestinian, who are thrown together as roommates in a Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem.  Both have suffered grievous injuries; Sam, our Israeli teen, has a seriously injured leg and may face amputation, and Yusef, our Palestinian, has lost an eye and may lose his other eye as well.  Both have their own extreme prejudices, indeed, we could say hatred, of the other side.  But when they decide to escape from the hospital to go on an innocent errand--a trip to a famous candy shop in Old Jerusalem, they get lost and are quickly in more trouble--and danger--than they could have imagined.  Can they work together to find their way back?

McKay does an admirable job of using Yusef and Sam as spokespeople for each side of the conflict, and we see through these two boys the misperceptions and fear each side has of the other. Their frustration with the other's point of view even makes them come to blows at one point in the novel.  McKay takes no particular point of view, but tries to show the commonalities between the two groups as well as the differences.  While the "happy" ending may be a bit pat, I would recommend this novel to young people who want to get a better understanding of the emotions behind the long-ranging Middle East conflict.  Back matter includes notes which define certain terms which are used in the novel.  

This novel has received numerous awards, including the 2013 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award.

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