Man, this took me back to that first couple of weeks of living in Morocco. There is a bizarre thing that happens when you move to North Africa. First, you start to know people and get rabid when anyone implies that all Muslims are terrorists (which happens all the time and needs to stop) and second you are inundated with a level of sexual harassment that would seem farcical if it wasn't so irritating and terrifying. Trish Doller hits that nail right on the head. In fact, almost all the details about being an expat feel correct. The frustration of not speaking the language or knowing how to get things done, the bubble of isolation and privilege that you can live in, the guilt, and the general confusion. She also gets the roller coaster that expats continually ride on, "This is the best place ever! Moving here was such a great decision!" "Oh, my God, what have I done with my life." Lather, rinse, repeat.
I have few minor quibbles but only because I am an expat and because I am a teacher at an international school. The son of the US Ambassador is not going to be going to a school that has a mostly Egyptian population. There are a ton of international schools in Cairo, but only a couple with US embassy students and those schools have strict quotas. Caroline's parents aren't going to be able to pay for an international school by themselves. Almost all expats children's education is a benefit paid for by her parent's employer. The schools are about 35,000$ a year. This is weird insider knowledge, and I doubt most other people will notice or care about it.
Caroline has a very healthy and loving relationship with her parents, and so does Adam. I have been paying attention more and more to adult relationships in YA books lately, so this made me happy. I loved many of the secondary characters. Adam's sister, in particular, was delightful. I also thought that it was realistic that Adam's best friends had different reactions to Caroline. Positive, wary, aloof, or shy.
Caroline isn't exempt from the judges and gross generalizations that people and especially expats make. Sometimes when you are close enough to the culture to watch it and be frustrated by it but not close enough to be part of or truly understand it, some ugly things come out. It is important to note that because this is a book about an expat, it is not an impressive examination of Egyptian culture or Islam. In many ways, this story would be very similar wherever Caroline's mother decided to go. I can understand if some readers who are looking for that might be disappointed or irritated by that.
If you are looking for something that deeply examines Egypt or Islamic culture, there are other books that are better. But if you are looking for something with an adorable couple, an unusual setting, and some great writing then look no further.
Caroline Kelly is excited to be spending her summer vacation working at the local amusement park with her best friend, exploring weird Ohio with her boyfriend, and attending soccer camp with the hope she’ll be her team’s captain in the fall.
But when Caroline’s mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt, Caroline’s plans are upended. Caroline is now expected to spend her summer and her senior year in a foreign country, away from her friends, her home, and everything she’s ever known.
With this move, Caroline predicts she’ll spend her time navigating crowded streets, eating unfamiliar food, and having terrible bouts of homesickness. But when she finds instead is a culture that surprises her, a city that astounds her, and a charming, unpredictable boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love, and privilege.