Words in the Dust

A fascinating portrait of Afghanistan through the eyes of one brave girl

Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan, a good relationship with her difficult stepmother, and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. In the meantime, with the support of her father and sister, Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her — “Inshallah,” God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her Afghan poetry, and the Americans come to their village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha — but can she dare to hope they’ll come true?

Inspired by a girl whom the author met in Afghanistan, this is not only a fascinating portrait of life in a country we Americans hear about, yet rarely see from inside, but a wonderful middle-grade story of choices, changes, chances, and discoveries.


  • Today Show Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids Pick, May 2011
  • Christopher Award, 2011
  • Cybils Award Nominee for Middle Grade Fiction, 2011
  • Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Honor Book, 2012
  • ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012
  • Society of Midland Authors Award for Children’s Fiction, 2012
  • Parents’ Choice Recommendation Seal, 2012
  • Amelia Bloomer Project list, 2012
  • A Noteable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, 2012
  • South Asia Book Award: Children’s and Young Adult Literature Highly Commended Book, 2012


“[T]he evolution of key relationships presents a nuanced look at family dynamics and Afghan culture. Though unsentimental and fraught with tragedy, Reedy’s narrative offers hope and will go a long way toward helping readers understand the people behind the headlines.” Publishers Weekly

“Drawing from personal experiences in Afghanistan, Reedy creates a multidimensional heroine who introspectively reflects on how to “be patient enough to forget all the ugliness and focus on . . . good things” in an oppressive culture where women are undervalued. An inside look at an ordinary Afghanistan family trying to survive in extraordinary times, it is both heart-wrenching and timely.” Kirkus Reviews

“Reedy based his debut on real people and places he encountered while serving with the National Guard in Afghanistan, and the extensive detail about Afghan customs gives the story the feel of a docu-novel while also creating a vivid sense of place and memorable characters. Reedy skillfully avoids tidy resolutions: the grim fate of Zulaikha’s sister, who is married to a much older man, offers a heartbreaking counterpoint to Zulaikha’s exciting new possibilities. A glossary of Dari phrases, an extensive author’s note, suggested reading lists, and an introduction by Katherine Paterson complete this deeply moving view of a young girl caught between opportunity and tradition in contemporary Afghanistan.” Booklist

“Based on actual events experienced by the author, a recently returned veteran of the war in Afghanistan, this powerful novel gains its impact from Zulaikha’s narration. . . . Readers will readily find themselves rooting for Zulaikha in this simply told yet thoughtful story.” Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Infused with poetry, and wrought with hardship, the story gives a bleak, but ultimately hopeful, portrayal of girlhood in Afghanistan. It is full of hard truths, painful lessons, beautiful human interaction, and the promise of possibility.” School Library Journal

“Reedy demonstrates a gift for empathy, deftly tapping into the emotional inner space of a girl whose entire life has been shaped by her deformity.” Los Angeles Times