It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel Book Poster Image
Relatable story of Iranian girl in U.S. who wants to fit in.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

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

Educational Value

Describes the events of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the hostage crisis and how they affected people living in Iran and abroad. Portrays challenges immigrants face in fitting in and joining American culture. Depicts Iranian traditions, culture, history, and food. Author's note directs readers to more resources on Iranian-Americans and the hostage crisis.

Positive Messages

Strong message about kindness, empathy, and generosity. Shows power of American dream and role of citizens in welcoming newcomers to participate in that dream.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cindy, though embarrassed over her family's inability to blend into American society, is a loving daughter. She strives to help them fit in, despite sometimes bristling at the responsibility. She worries for her depressed mother and angry, frightened father. Cindy's mother is a generous and thoughtful host. Her father is an outspoken feminist, committed to educating his daughter. Several friends and neighbors look out for the family, providing kindnesses small and large.


Family is targeted with threatening behavior, notably a dead hamster with a note telling them to leave the country. Anti-Iranian T-shirts, bumper stickers, and speech make the family feel unwelcome and nervous. A boy throws tomatoes at a girl. Family fears for safety of loved ones back in Iran amid reports of arrests and executions.


Lots of brand names mentioned to firmly set the story in the late '70s. Cindy desperately wants what she views as essential American status symbols: a stylish bedroom set, a beanbag chair, a puka shell necklace, and the like.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that It Ain't So Awful, Falafel is about an immigrant family from Iran that faces both kindness and cruel harassment amid the drama of the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979. Author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi) draws on her experience growing up in California during that time, outlining some of the pivotal moments of the Iranian revolution and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and describing how it all affected American politics and culture. She describes some of the violence in Iran, poignantly showing how distressing it was for people living in the United States who were worried about friends and family back in Iran. Not only are the bullies outnumbered by upstanders in this story, but characters who engage in mean or petty behavior are presented with some complexity and insight.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bybooklover1314 October 14, 2019

Interesting and funny

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel is a funny and interesting historical fiction book about a girl named Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh. Cindy's family has moved... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 26, 2020

Thumbs up for this book!

Zomorod or Cindy moved to California from Iran. She thinks her family is embarrassing: her mom only speaks Persian and isn’t willing to learn English or make an... Continue reading

What's the story?

When her family moves to Newport Beach, California, right before she starts sixth grade, Zomorod is so desperate to fit in that she changes her name to Cindy. She's embarrassed by her Iranian family: Her depressed mother won't learn English and doesn't grasp American social etiquette, her engineer dad talks only about oil in thickly accented English, and her family doesn't celebrate American holidays. After a rocky start, Cindy has great friends and feels she's blending in (though she's often mistaken for Mexican). But the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis threaten everything in their lives, and the family faces threats. Cindy no longer feels welcome in America -- but could she return to such a changed Iran?

Is it any good?

The 1979 revolution in Iran may seem like ancient history to middle schoolers today, but this amiable novel makes that tense, world-changing event real and -- most importantly -- relatable. Author Firoozeh Dumas draws on her own childhood for IT AIN'T SO AWFUL, FALAFEL, and she captures the spirit and voice of a young girl whose normal middle school anxieties are deepened by a sometimes unbridgeable gulf between her and her very American peers.

Cindy and her family are the emotional core of the story: Cindy's friends, though kind and steadfast, are barely developed. Her girlfriends and kindly neighbors are primarily used to prop up dialogue explaining developments in Iran. Dumas clearly describes the cultural and political changes in Iran and the nation's complicated history with the U.S., and she affectingly portrays the countless ways newcomers to America can struggle to feel at home. It raises issues about the immigrant experience that still resonate today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about anti-Iranian rhetoric during the hostage crisis, from threatening T-shirts and bumper stickers to harassment of Cindy's family. Do you think much has changed in America since the 1970s in that regard?

  • Have you ever witnessed harassment of someone because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or background? What did you do?

  • It Ain't So Awful, Falafel is based on the author's childhood. Do you think her experience is similar to that of other immigrant families? Why, or why not?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love middle school stories and tales of the immigrant experience

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