The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine, Groundwood, 2013. Lebanon. 9th grade and up.
At the age of 15 Faten is sent to Beirut work as a maid for a family a four. Her father tells her that she needs to help support the family, but Faten dreams of being a nurse. Her only friend in Beirut is Rosalynn, the maid in the apartment below hers. When Faten's father shows up before her 17th birthday to collect her salary she decides to take her fate into her own hands. "Yesterday her father showed up to collect her salary as usual. And, like every time he visits, she felt defeated once more....She is being robbed of another month of her life." With Rosalynn's help she contacts the handsome young neighbor across the street. When they meet, Marwan agrees to help her study for her exams so she can apply to nursing school. Set in the mid 1980's, the Lebanese Civil War makes intrusions into the story but it is neither a central character nor does it create a pivotal plot point.
This small but mighty book delivers a huge emotional punch. From sorrow to fear to hope, the story carries the reader along with Faten as she makes her journey towards independence. Told from her point-of-view and in a conversational voice, the text is easy to immerse oneself into. The story is for anyone who feels that their life is not what they had planned.
This book is a quick read that offers an opportunity to discuss the life and culture of an American teen. As a piece of historical fiction, the text offers glimpses into living in an urban war zone. In the classroom the text could be used as a springboard to discuss current political global affairs, or the global situation in the the mid 1980's, or as a writing exercise (what would Faten's life be like as a teen in Lebanon today?). It could also be useful to discuss the aspirations of the teen students and how they feel about Faten's choices.
Visual artist & librarian.