Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti

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Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A short, bittersweet tale of the correspondence between an idealistic Israeli girl and an angry Palestinian boy. It's emotionally open and tremendously touching. For all children who want to change the world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 0747590443

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After a suicide bomber attacks her local Jerusalem cafe, Israeli teenager Tal Levine embarks upon a risky venture. She comes from a family of peace campaigners - her parents have never supported the occupation of the Palestinian territories - and she decides to reach out. She prevails upon her soldier brother to take her message in a bottle and throw it in the Gaza Sea. Against all likelihood, a Palestinian boy, Naim, finds it, and the two strike up an email dialogue. It's dangerous for both of them. Such a correspondence is taboo in this atmosphere of conflict and entrenched position.

Tal is open, direct, friendly, keen. Naim is angry, defensive, secretive, untrusting. Gradually, Tal chips away at Naim's barriers until he too begins to open up to someone from the other side. Sadly, all around them, the conflict continues. Israeli soldiers shoot Palestininan children. Tal is an eye witness to another suicide attack. And yet still these two adolescents manage to cling on to the friendship they have made.

There's a striking simplicity about this little book. It doesn't bother with pages and pages of background. It doesn't spend forever explaing why Tal and Naim feel as they do. It simply allows them to speak for themselves. Like all peace processes, it begins with a first move: Tal's message in a bottle. Like all peace processes, it takes two steps forward, then one step back. But eventually - and sadly, this is not like all peace processes, but only like the successful ones - Tal and Naim discover they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. They're both young and vulnerable, they're both scarred by the conflict, they both have a desperate need for worthwhile communication with others. But most of all; they both have a vision of peace.

Aside from war and violence, Message in a Bottle is also about being young. It's about questioning adults, abut breaking taboos, about a future that isn't circumscribed. And you have to love it for that.

It's short and easy to read and so quite suitable for any child from about ten and upwards. There is talk of bombings, death, and despair, and so perhaps the more sensitive of youngers ones could find some passages distressing. Such scenes, though, appear on the news almost every day, and I don't think there is an age too young to accept the human stories behind the headlines.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Younger readers might also like Elizabeth Laird's Oranges in No Man's Land, while older children ready for adult reading could look at Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh.

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Buy Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti at


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