Fourth grader Maxie is unhappy. Her father is starting to talk about a new girlfriend, which, three years after her mother’s death, is far too soon for Maxie. Drita is also unhappy. She’s recently moved to the US from Kosovo, and she is having a hard time adjusting to the new language and culture. When Maxie makes fun of Drita on her first day of school, the teacher suggests that Kosovo be Maxie’s subject for the social studies project. Gradually, the two girls become friends.
The two girls tell the story in alternating chapters. Their voices are distinct: Drita uses a lot of Albanian words, while Maxie talks with an approximation of inner city slang (as a life-long suburbanite, I can’t speak to its accuracy). Grandmothers played a huge role in the life of both girls, helping to underline the message that we are all the same. Drita’s mother’s depression was handled well, and realistically. However, I couldn’t really believe in the subplot about Maxie coming to accept her father’s girlfriend. Her turn-around was far too abrupt and complete for it to have been at all realistic.
Still, there was a lot to like in this book. It is a deceptively breezy read, considering the intense topics that are discussed within its covers, and would make an interesting introduction to discussing injustice and war, and (while the term is never used) post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, it can also be enjoyed simply as a friendship story.