Sita Brahmachari returns to the world of Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies with this portrayal of Laila, the youngest member of the Levenson family, as she copes with a time of transition in her life. Laila’s older siblings, Mira and Krish, depart for university just as Laila is about to start secondary school, leaving her feeling lonely and abandoned. It doesn’t help that Laila’s best friend Kez also wants to become more independent and to make new friends. When Laila manages to track down her Nana Josie’s Protest Book and discovers more about her dead grandmother’s life as an activist a change of spirit is sparked in Laila herself. She begins to work out her place in the world, to discover what she really believes is important, to make new friends and to find her voice in defending the rights of others, just as her Nana Josie did many years before.
This is a powerful, moving, multi-layered and deeply satisfying story of young people finding their path in a confusing, frightening world by standing up for what they feel is right and taking action. Laila’s old and new friendships, with Kez, whose Bat Mitzvah preparations form a running moral core to the book, and with Pari, a Syrian refugee, develop and strengthen throughout as Laila grows in understanding and empathy. Themes of learning from the past and your own background whilst dealing with the realities of the world you live in build to the climax of Laila organising her own barefoot protest against local anti-semitism. Laila learns both to walk in other people’s shoes and to tread her own path.
The author succeeds in portraying the normal ups and downs of family life and relationships in a warm and inspirational way. Laila’s narrative voice is believable and sympathetic and the world portrayed is multi-cultural, diverse and authentically inclusive. Readers of the previous titles will be happy to encounter familiar characters, but the book can stand alone. In her foreword the author urges young readers to work out what paths they will follow, what banners they will hold up and what words they will write on them. In a sometimes dark and divided world, it feels very important to be able to recommend a book full of such hope and positivity and to bring it to the attention of as many young people as possible.