Listen, Layla

Penguin Australia. Nov. 2021. 288p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781760896065.
Gr 8 Up–Layla, a 14-year-old Sudanese Australian, has just finished Year 8 of school and has exciting summer plans, primarily preparing for an international design competition and working toward becoming a world-class inventor. Those plans are abruptly upended, however, when her grandmother becomes ill and her family must travel to Sudan. Afraid to lose her spot on the school’s championship design team, Layla secretly attempts to balance family and team obligations, all the while reconciling the Sudan of her imagination with its realities and questions about her own identity: Is she Sudanese or Australian? Can she be both? When the Sudanese people take to the streets demanding change, Layla is determined not to be left behind, even if it goes against her parents’ wishes. She learns that she must draw strength from the regal legacy of her ancestors and listen to the impulses of her heart and the wisdom of her elders. Arabic phrases, Islamic references, and Australian slang contribute to the authenticity of the well-paced narrative. Shining a light on Sudan’s oft-forgotten history and the current challenges facing the nation, this novel will resonate with those working to make sense of multiple identities. Dialogue about gender roles between Layla and her grandmother, as well with friends and family, offers fodder for discussions about gendered expectations for women across the world. A glossary of Arabic terms helps to make the work accessible.
VERDICT Featuring a smart, African, Black, and Muslim protagonist, and a host of interesting and complex characters, this work is recommended for library collections.

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