Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

August 31, 2018

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars 2

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Folk Tale, Magical Realism, Coming of Age, Syrian


The Map of Salt and Stars is really two stories. One story is contemporary and the other is a mythological folk tale that takes place 800 years earlier. In the contemporary story, Nour’s mother, a Syrian-American, a cartographer and painter of beautiful maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria after the death of Nour’s father. The mother feels a strong desire to live closer to her family. After they arrive in Syria, they experience effects of the civil war evidenced by protests and shelling in their quiet neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s home and neighborhood, she and her family and a close family friend of her father’s are forced to flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety.

The story within the story is a favorite folk tale that Nour’s father told her over and over again as a young girl. Nour loves the main character in the folk tale, Rawiya, who becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the region. Rawiya follows al-Idrisi on a journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where they encounter a mythical beast and fight epic battles.

There are strong connections between the two stories as Nour and her family are forced from their home to travel the identical route that Rawiya traveled eight hundred years earlier. Throughout the journey, Nour remembers and is inspired by the heroine of her favorite folktale as she faces similar challenges and fears.

Early Amazon Rating (August): 4.5

My Thoughts:

There’s a lot to like about this story!

Favorite Quote: “[King Roger] explained that he often came to the library at night. He motioned to the shelves of books, their spines polished gold, tawny brown, and russet leather. ‘Anyone who wants company and knowledge will find what they seek here,’ he said. ‘We are among friends.’ ”

Connections. Throughout the larger story, the two separate stories are connected in several ways. A few examples:

  • The characters in each story take a journey, have adventures, experience heartache, redefine the meaning of family, and hold out hope for ‘home.’
  • Both characters disguise themselves as boys.
  • Both girls grieve over the loss of a beloved father.
  • Nour’s mother is a map maker and painter while Rawiya is an apprentice to a map maker.
  • Both girls leave home and face grief on their journey.
  • The stories have some similar plot devices (one example among many is that Nour leads her family to safety [remembering the way to her father’s friend’s house] after their neighborhood was bombed and Rawiya saves her small expedition from a huge white attacking bird).

Themes. The story is filled with poignant themes including grief, beloved fathers, dangerous journeys, the comfort of stars, faith, and the search for home.

The Writing. Beautiful descriptive writing and sensory details fill every page of this story creating a memorable sense of place. Readers who appreciate figurative language will enjoy creative and descriptive phrases including fresh and unique similes, metaphors, and personification. The symbolism of salt and stars also encourages thoughtful reflection.

compelling character

Each month I designate the most compelling character of the month, and in August I’m honoring Nour and Rawiya  from The Map of Salt and Stars as this month’s most memorable characters. ***Link Up below

Meet Nour and Rawiya

Both main protagonists in The Map of Salt and Stars are young girls (coming of age). Nour and Rawiya are strong females with leadership qualities and are compelling characters (Cooler reviewers than me would call them “badass girls.”)

  • Nour is a bit melancholy, seriously reflective and thoughtful, has color Synesthesia, appears to have a photographic memory, exhibits leadership abilities, and is brave and daring.
  • Rawiya is fearlessly confident. She is best described in the following quotes:

When Khaldun (a young man) doubts that he can throw a stone high enough to kill Roc, the giant white mythological bird, Rawiya quietly and confidently says, “Perhaps I can.”

When she was discovered as a girl, she challenged her critics, “You once said I had courage, heart. That heart still beats. The body that cradles it is no large matter.”

…and my favorite….

I am a woman and a warrior,” Rawiya said, her blade cutting into his club. “If you think I can’t be both, you’ve been lied to.

Recommended. I highly recommend The Map of Salt and Stars for readers who appreciate historical fiction and stories set in diverse cultures, for those who seek stories of strong, independent, confident girls, for readers who would like an ambitious blending of a contemporary and a mythological story (with a bit of magical realism added to the mix), and definitely for readers with Syrian heritage. Even though this story is categorized adult fiction, I think mature middle grade girls and young adults who are looking for literary role models would be engaged by this story and be inspired by the female protagonists.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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map of salt and stars

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Jennifer Zeynab JoukhadarJennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American author. Originally from New York City, Jennifer was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of American Mensa. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon ReviewThe Saturday Evening PostPANK MagazineMizna, and elsewhere. Jennifer is a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Program Literary Arts Fellow and an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net.

Link Up for August’s Most Compelling Character

(Please share your most memorable character from your August reading by Linking Up a blog post or in the comments)

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

 Links I Love

Do you enjoy TV and/or a Netflix binge as well as reading? Do you have a favorite series or favorite episodes? I thought this was a great link to explore to see if the episodes listed match yours! 100 Best TV Episodes of the Century

My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read a good portion of the list (crossing off one more next week), some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)

Looking Ahead:

Over the weekend, look for my August Wrap Up post.

Next Friday, I hope to bring you a review of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance.

clock dance

Amazon Information Here

Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

 Let’s Discuss

Do you enjoy the story within a story structure?  One book I read with this same story within a story structure was Fredrik Backman’s And My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She Was Sorry. 

Are you looking ahead to fall reading? I have quite a fall TBR list that I’m eager to share with you!

***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.


Ginny Moon

November 3, 2017

Do you appreciate reading stories from a differing abilities perspective? Do you know someone with Autism or would you like to experience what that would be like? Are you a professional whose work involves persons on the Autism spectrum? If you wonder what life looks like from the perspective of Autism, please continue reading and be encouraged to add Ginny Moon to your TBR.

Ginny Moon
by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon

Genre/categories: Contemporary Fiction, coming of age, autism, family life, adoption, differing abilities


Ginny is fourteen, adopted, autistic, and is committed to saving her “baby doll.” In her fourth home since having been removed from her biological mom’s care, she has now been adopted by her “forever mom” and “forever dad.” For years, Ginny has been troubled about something that happened the night she was taken away from her biological mom and cannot think about anything else until she makes it right. Her “forever” parents and her counselor don’t seem to understand the extent of Ginny’s commitment to her past, so Ginny is left with no choice but to attempt an escape.  Amazon Rating (November): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

As you discover the cause of Ginny’s preoccupation and consuming worry, you will love Ginny and your heart with break for her as she sacrifices everything and risks it all to make it right.

The author speaks from an authentic voice because he also adopted an autistic child. Ludwig does a phenomenal job of unlocking Ginny’s inner world for the reader. Ginny loves Michael Jackson, eats nine grapes for breakfast, needs lists and rules, always notes the time, takes things literally, and is “special” in more ways than her autism….she’s a “smart cookie,” determined, compassionate, an innovative problem solver, loyal, a survivor, and brave.

Frustrating parts of the story for me were the adults who could have dealt more effectively with the abuse and trauma that Ginny had experienced in her first home, and they could have focused more on communication and understanding the desperation behind Ginny’s actions. It saddened me that Ginny had to act in extreme ways to deal with her anxiety and worry, and I wish she had received more support.

Overall, this is an important and meaningful read. Readers will fall in love with Ginny and be touched by her deep desire to belong (can’t we all relate?!), her struggle being stuck on the “wrong side of forever,” and her desperation to get back to make things right.

If you work with or know of children with autism, you appreciate that each one has different needs and that there’s a great deal to learn about working with communication challenges and rigid and literal thinking. As a teacher, I’ve had some experience with students on the autism spectrum and Ginny reminds me so much of a former student. I kept visualizing my student through Ginny’s actions, expressions, and thinking. They were eerily similar and I immediately cared a great deal for Ginny.

For me, a small weakness in the writing was (in Ginny’s words) the “tedious” use of certain words/phrases such as “forever mom,” “forever dad,” “forever home,” and “baby doll.” I realize this was an author’s  technique to demonstrate a certain exactness and rigidity in Ginny’s thinking; however, because I enjoyed an audio version of the book the repetition of words was a bit bothersome. If I were reading, I probably would’ve skimmed more over these words.

Recommended for all readers who appreciate reading books from different perspectives, who care deeply about autism, and who root for characters with lots of heart.

My rating 3.5 stars (founded up to 4 stars on Goodreads).


Ginny Moon

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Benjamin Ludwig

Benjamin LudwigA life-long teacher of English and writing, Benjamin Ludwig lives in New Hampshire with his family. He holds an MAT in English Education and an MFA in Writing. Shortly after he and his wife married they became foster parents and adopted a teenager with autism. Ginny Moon is his first novel. His website is available at, and he tweets @biludwig.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes


I promised last week that I would read and review Young Jane Young. I read it but decided to lead the post with Ginny Moon because I rated it higher and for me it was a more meaningful read.

Young Jane Young
By Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young

Genre/categories: contemporary women’s fiction, feminism, politics


Monica Lewinsky reimagined.

Still with me? This story is about a woman who is reinventing her life after interning for a congressman as a college girl and gets into a Monica Lewinsky type scandal. The story is told from five distinct female voices: younger Jane (Aviva), older Jane, Jane’s mother, Jane’s daughter, and the congressman’s wife.

Amazon Rating (November): 4.2 Stars

My Thoughts:

Even though contemporary fiction with a feminist focus is not my go to genre, I was enticed to give this a try because (1) Zevin is the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, a favorite read; and (2) it was selected by the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club as the October read, and I trust their recommendations.


The five voices through which this story is told are certainly distinctive. Sometimes my experience with multiple voices/perspectives is that they all sound like the author. In Young Jane Young, the voices are refreshingly different. Also of note is that the voices do not move the story forward, rather they retell the story from their unique perspective. It’s interesting that two of the voices are her younger and older self.

I’m always looking for important themes in books. One important theme in the book is the importance of one’s good name. We hear from younger Jane’s mom, and I’m sure you’ve heard this wise advice from your own parents, too, that your good name is all you have.

“In this life and the next one, all you have is your good name.”
~Rachel Shapiro

Your good name has always been important but even more so in current times because your online history lives on forever.

Another theme that would lead to good discussion involves the double standard. In young Jane’s experience, she has a relationship with an older married congressman. She gets shamed and is forced to rebuild her life, while the man apologizes, is forgiven, and continues with his career and recovers his public image.

In addition to a couple of relevant themes, another important strength of the story for me is that it ends on a redemptive and hopeful note as Jane is found rebuilding her life, gaining confidence, and finding her voice.


I will always give you my honest opinion, so I do need to address some weaknesses (which affect my rating). First, I felt like some of the writing choices were gimmicky. For example, the young Jane chapter is told in a choose-your-own-adventure format and second person point of view. Choose-your-own-adventure books are popular in elementary school (you or your children most likely have read a few). In a way, it’s a clever connection and metaphor for those times in life when we reflect on our previous choices and wonder what would’ve happened if we’d made a different choice; however, to have the entire structure of the chapter shaped around this concept seemed gimmicky. In addition, I thought the second person POV was difficult to read for an extended amount of text in that it was a jarring departure from more traditional first or third used in the rest of the book. You know what I mean?! An additional weakness for me also involved structure in that we find the daughter’s entire chapter written in email format as she communicates with a new pen pal from Afghanistan. This was not only distracting because it added en entirely new cultural context and character to the story, but it also seemed like an impersonal glimpse into serious events that were happening, as we hear only the daughter’s side of the conversation in a second hand way. Continuing with a couple more weaknesses, it seemed to me that at times the author was checking off her list of political agenda items to address, and most of these issues are not a match with my issues. Furthermore, I would have appreciated an epilogue. Specifically, I felt more resolution needed to happen for the daughter. Finally, I was disturbed by the lack of good men in this story. With the exception of young Jane’s intern friend, the men were not upstanding role models. I didn’t appreciate the portrayal of generally badly behaved men. The above concerns affected by rating and ability to recommend this book. My Rating: 2,5 Stars (Rounded up to 3 Stars on Goodreads)


Young Jane Young

Buy Here

Many readers give this book high ratings, so I encourage you to read more reviews before deciding whether or not to read the book. Readers who are looking for a light and engaging vacation/beach/plane read focusing on feminism and politics might enjoy this. For a really exciting vacation read, I might suggest an alternative Castle of Water (reviewed here).

Meet the Author, Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle ZevinGabrielle Zevin has published six adult and young adult novels, including Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, which has been translated in over twenty languages. She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart), for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in Los Angeles.


Looking Ahead!

I’m sorry….I haven’t yet made a final decision about what I’m reading and reviewing for this next week. Sometimes it depends on what’s available at the library! However, The Other Alcott is high on my TBR list! What are you reading or thinking of reading?

The Other Alcott




More Information Here.



Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Ginny Moon or Young Jane Young? Is either one on your TBR?  How do you feel about reading a book from a differing abilities perspective? I’m curious what you think about the portrayal of Ginny if you have an autistic child. What are you reading this week? What book are you most looking forward to reading this fall? I’d love to hear from you!

***Linking up today with Puppies & Pretties/Reading Lately.