It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas is a semi-autobiographical novel about an middle school-age Iranian girl living in Southern California during the late 1970s.
It’s not easy being from a place few Americans can find on a map. Her name (Zomorod Yousefzadeh) is hard to pronounce, her mother needs her to translate everything into Persian, her kitchen is stocked with different food than her friends’ houses, and her family doesn’t celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Then, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution and the Iran hostage crisis make everything worse. Her father loses his job, her parents worry constantly for their relatives in Iran, and her family faces growing anti-Iran sentiment in the U.S.
It Aint’ So Awful, Falafel is a serious story told with a light touch. It’s full of astute observations about American and Iranian culture, and it made me laugh.
As a child of the 1970s myself, I also enjoyed the period details. For example, Zomorod’s neighbor has cats named Captain and Tennille, and her friends give her a banana-flavored Bonne Bell Lip Smacker on a rope for her twelfth birthday. She mentions the yellow ribbons tied around trees all over town during the hostage crisis and the long lines at gas stations during the oil crisis.
Dumas dedicates this book to “all the kids who don’t belong, for whatever reason.” On her website, she shares information about the Falafel Kindness Project that encourages kids to befriend kids who may feel like outsiders.