A Stone in My Hand

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
A Stone in My Hand Book Poster Image
Intense story of Palestinian family in Gaza Strip in 1989.

Parents say

age 18+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book offers one perspective on life under military occupation in 1989, a period of active rebellion, and the history of the major Middle East conflict. Contains a glossary of Arabic words.

Positive Messages

A Stone in My Hand offers insight into the Palestinian experience in the occupied Gaza Strip in 1989. Malaak's parents believe in nonviolent methods of protest as they wait for restoration of their own land. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Malaak's family is very loving, and both her parents both taught their children nonviolent attitudes. Malaak is deeply grieved when her father disappears, but she finds the courage to act as her father would have wanted when further tragedy hits. 

Violence

Children see soldiers firing on men and children; some children and teens are "young activists" who taunt soldiers and throw stones at them; some participate in retaliatory bombings; Malaak's father is killed in a terrorist attack in Israel when he leaves Gaza City; her 12-year-old brother is shot when he throws stones at soldiers.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Stone in My Hand is a historical novel that portrays the life of a Palestinian family in the occupied Gaza Strip in 1989. Descriptions of 11-year-old female protagonist Malaak's grim experience of living under occupation is intense and may be difficult reading for anyone under 14. Children see soldiers firing on men and children; some children and teens taunt soldiers and throw stones at them, and some participate in retaliatory bombings. Malaak's father is killed in terrorist attack in Israel, and her 12-year-old brother is shot when he throws stones at soldiers. Little historical context is offered, as the story is told purely from the perspective of a refugee child whose entire life has been dominated by soldiers and fear. A Stone in My Hand succeeds in putting a human face on one side of the conflict, but parents should be prepared to talk about the Israeli perspective and the history of the conflict. 

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What's the story?

Eleven-year-old Malaak is the youngest daughter of a Palestinian family that lives in the occupied Gaza Strip. One day in 1989, her father has to leave Gaza to look for work, and he never returns. Malaak becomes withdrawn, stops speaking, and retreats to the roof, where she tames a dove and waits for her father to return. When Malaak learns that he was killed in a terrorist attack, the dove becomes a source of solace for her and a symbol of the nonviolent beliefs her father had taught her. But her 12-year-old brother, Hamid, reacts to the loss by becoming a \"boy who throws stones\" at the Israeli soldiers and sympathizes with the Palestinian terrorist cause. After many months, Malaak regains her voice and returns to school, where she even makes a new friend, but Hamid refuses to give up his dangerous activities. When he's shot, Malaak has to choose between withdrawing into herself again and reaching out to save her brother.

Is it any good?

A Stone in My Hand is a powerful story of one family struggling to survive life as refugees. The American author does a wonderful job of creating a portrait of a warm, loving Arab family struggling to survive under siege-like conditions and the tragedy of childhood lost to religious conflicts and violence.

Being true to Malaak's young perspective, a stone in the hand is the only weapon available to children who feel that they, too, must rebel against the soldiers on their streets. This may be a sad read for many young readers, and parents should be prepared to answer questions about the political realities in the Middle East.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Malaak's response to the disappearance of her father. How does the rest of her family cope with his disappearance?

  • What other books have you read or movies have you seen that show you a child's experience of war? 

  • There are many refugee camps in the world today. Can you identify where some are? Is our country trying to help any of them?

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