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Between and Within Cultures: April 2017 High School

March 17th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | High School | April

Both Margarita Engle and Naila in Written in the Stars find themselves living between two cultures. What struggles do they face in finding a place where they feel they fit?

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. Atheneum, 2015

Margarita Engle’s mother was Cuban, her father American. Introverted Margarita felt socially awkward here in the United States but something eased for her when she visited her mother’s family in Cuba. She loved her relatives, the land, the ways of being, the very air when they would visit in the 1950s. Then came the 1960s, with the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the travel ban that cut them off from the place and the people she and her mother cherished. There were comments at school, tension at home, visits from the government, and no word on how their loved ones faired. Engle’s family continued to travel, but not to the place she most longed to go. A memoir in poems that takes Engle through age 14 ends with one in which she writes, “Someday, surely I’ll be free / to return to the island of all my childhood / dreams.” Her eventual return in 1991 and recent political changes are discussed in a brief author’s note in a volume that also includes a Cold War timeline. Grounded in Engle’s specific experience, the sense of loss, of feeling an outsider, of longing, will resonate with many tween and teen readers.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think Engle chose to write her memoir in poetic form?
  2. As the U.S. and Cuba begin to interact politically again, many Cuban Americans will have a chance to return to their homeland. Do you think many will?
  3. Which of Engle’s memories stand out the most to you?

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2015

When Pakistani American Naila’s parents find out she has a boyfriend they see it not only as a huge betrayal of trust but also worry how far from their culture and control she is moving. It doesn’t matter that Saif is Pakistani, too. Genuinely afraid for Naila, her parents take her to visit family in Pakistan the summer before she starts college. Naila doesn’t understand until it’s too late why they keep postponing their return: They’re arranging a marriage for her. After a failed escape attempt, Naila is drugged by her uncle and forced to marry Amin. He is a kind and patient young man who feels trapped in his own way by tradition. But when Amin’s mother threatens to send depressed Naila back to her family, Amin rapes Naila to consummate the marriage. It’s a short, powerful scene that underscores the warped way conservative tradition has shaped his perspective: He thinks he has no choice. Aisha Saeed reveals complexities of characters, situations, and culture in a riveting and moving debut novel. Naila has immense strength and Saif is not her savior but her ally in self-determination when he and his father finally help her get away. An insightful and powerful author’s note provides personal, cultural, and global perspectives on the distinction between arranged marriages in which a young woman has a choice, and forced marriages that still take place in many countries, including our own.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Naila’s parents want the best for her. Naila wants to please her parents. Why can’t they find a middle ground?
  2. Before you read this novel, what did you know about arranged marriages? Naila’s experience is terrible, but the author has a happy and successful arranged marriage which she discusses in the author’s note. How did your understanding of arranged marriages change after reading Naila’s story? After reading the author’s note.
  3. Written in the Stars shows a diversity of experiences within Muslim culture. In what different ways do we see Muslim culture portrayed in this novel?

Find more resources for Enchanted Air and Written in the Stars from TeachingBooks.net!

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