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*A Bottle in the Gaza Sea* by Valerie Zenatti- young adult book review  
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
by Valerie Zenatti
Grades 7+ 160 pages Bloomsbury USA April 2008 Hardcover    

We all want there to be an end to wars around the world. We all long for peace for everyone and a reconciliation between lifelong enemies. What would you do to bring about such a peace, given the chance? Would you try to connect with someone from the “other side” and understand how your “enemies” live and feel, what motivates their hatred? Would you attempt to relate to how they feel, and try to make them understand that most people in your country are much like theirs - wanting peace, wanting the fighting to cease, desiring to live out your lives raising families who have no need to fear that they might get blown up by suicide bombers or have tanks and soldiers destroying their houses and killing their countrymen? A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti poignantly portrays exactly such a situation: a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl, Tal Levine, who lives in Jerusalem, and the relationship that develops between her and a twenty-year-old Palestinian man, Naim Al-Farjouk, through first a note in a bottle, then via e-mail.

Though Tal is the main protagonist and focus of the book, the readers also get to see how some people who dwell in the Gaza Strip live and how they perceive the Israelis through the eyes and e-mail of Naim, who uses the online name “Gazaman” when communicating with Tal. She calls herself bakbouk, which translates as “bottle.” Tal and her parents (as do many Israelis and Palestinians) have longed for peace all of their lives. What motivates her to go the next step and try to communicate with someone who is Palestinian is when she hears about the death of a young woman who was in “the Hillel cafe” and was going to be married soon. She was killed by a terrorist who blew himself up, taking the lives of six other people in the process. She can’t understand the thinking and hatred that could possess a person’s mind so much that he would be willing to sacrifice his own life and to take the lives of innocent people.

Tal gets the idea of writing a letter to a random Palestinian and sending it off on the Gaza Sea in the hopes of contacting someone who can give her insights into what could motivate a person to act in such a way, and to develop a friendship. She imagines that it will likely be a girl about her own age who will get the bottle and message, and that through communicating with each other, they’ll both learn more about how the people of the other side thinks and feels. She enlists the aid of one of her brothers, Eytan, who is serving as a military nurse, to drop the bottle into the sea for her. Instead, he buries it halfway in the sand on a beach and keeps an eye on it from a distance to learn about who might discover it and read the letter.

At first, Naim’s reaction is anger; he feels Tal is presuming too much about himself and Palestinians in general. He writes her back with quite an attitude, but an understandable one, since he and everyone he knows view the Israelis as interlopers on their land. He wants there to be peace as much as Tal does, if not more, but he views her as an overly idealistic and unrealistic pampered girl who has no real clue about him or any Palestinian. However, he can’t help but be touched by Tal’s words and to continue their communication. He is afraid of being found out by a fellow Palestinian trying to communicate in a friendly manner with an Israeli, which potentially could be deadly for him, so he is able to write her only somewhat haphazardly by using an Internet cafe.

Any book that potentially can help bridge the gaps and divides between people and promote peace is a vital addition to the literature of the world. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is a short but emotionally charged and powerful novel. One hopes, however unrealistically, that with enough people who think like Tal and her parents and Naim, perhaps one day there will be genuine peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. Naim writes Tal in his last message to her that he would like to meet her in Rome three years later at the Trevi Fountain. I sort of hope he does; it would make for a good sequel to this book. Until then, if you like books that bring a bit of hope to this war-torn planet we live on, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is one you’ll love to read.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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