Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Mia's Odyssey is the real-life tale of a Palestinian child-bride who immigrates to the United States with her brutal and much-older husband. It's a story of courage, trials, and survival.
We LOVED this book! It's one of those that you just can't put down.
Gosh, if there was ever one book that was one step away from being perfect, Mia's Odyssey would be it. The one and only thing that holds this book back from being truly extraordinary is the formatting, otherwise it's simply a fantastic real-life story from beginning to end.
We're not kidding! This memoir by Mia Odeh, a first-time Palestinian-American author, is one of the best, most captivating books we've read all year! It literally had our attention from cover to cover! We can't even remember a time a book gripped us like that.
There was never a time in this book when we wanted to turn away or put it down. Every page was tantalizing and captivating. It had us on the edge of our seats: what was going to happen in this epic, turbulent saga between Mia, Fayed—her severely abusive husband—and their children? Will Mia and her children ever be able to escape this predicament? Will they ever be safe or ever be free? Will anyone ever do anything to help poor Mia and her children? Will Mia ever be anything more than a slave wife in a foreign land?
It's books like this that really make you feel fortunate for the things you have and often take for granted: clean water, money for food, a roof over your head, fluency in English, and people who love and care about you (even if they might get on your nerves sometimes). Mia really didn't have any of that, save for perhaps one sister. Her childhood was completely stolen from her when her own mother and brother conspired to sell her off to a middle-aged Arab-American man, Fayed, in an arranged marriage. Her brother even threatened to bury her alive when she later protested the marriage, and her mother just about disowned her when she tried to divorce him. It is constantly and consistently put in Mia's head by her mother, brother, and Fayed that she belongs to him and exists only to please him, having no free will or autonomy of her own to pursue her own dreams, goals, and desires. The same thing is implied to happen to Mia's sister and other Palestinian and Arab women in that culture. Women are truly secondary and serve a subservient role to men in those types of cultures, and they are regularly struck for disobedience per the instructions in the Quran. It is really uncomfortable for a western audience to read, but the book isn't shy about its criticisms of western evils and oddities or that of its allies like the Israelis.
This book does very briefly cover the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as Mia grew up in the West Bank, an area regularly bombarded, patrolled, and outright invaded by the Israeli military, in response to what they deem to be terrorist activities. Let's face it, we in the west tend to be much more sympathetic to the Israelis in this conflict. They are the descendants of all the heroes in our Bible after all. However, we tend to forget that the Palestinian Muslims are human beings too. They have the right to human decency and respect as well even if their beliefs aren't exactly like our own. Should a captured Palestinian POW be starved and fed only flavored water, deprived of so much nutrients for so long that their hair turns white in their 20s? Could that really be God's will, or is that a human act of hatred, depravity, and/or anger? It's something to think about.
What's actually fascinating is that no matter how absolutely, downright terrible Mia's life in America becomes, she still fears her children growing up in the West Bank. She fears her sons growing up to treat women as property and her daughters, of course, being treated as property. She fears them being killed by Israeli artillery or missiles or being taken away by their soldiers. Keep in mind: her life in America with Fayed would literally be considered hell to most Americans, yet she ultimately prefers it over the alternative. That's not to say that she doesn't want to get away, she doesn't want to escape, and she doesn't want the suffering to end.
Fayed is a downright disgusting, despicable human being who regularly abuses Mia in every way possible. Every time it seems Mia may have found a respite from his abuse—such as when he is supposed to be gone for six months or when he gets sick—Fayed returns like a slasher villain in a horror movie. Who is going to stop this monster? Are the neighbors? The doctor? The police?
There aren't enough terrible things we can say about this awful man who oppressed and subjugated Mia, marrying her when she was just young enough to attend high school and constantly taking advantage of her. Poor Mia!
And Mia is such a great protagonist to follow. For one, she is vulnerable, but she is also infinitely courageous. She will take a beating if it means protecting one of her children. It is the fact that she is so vulnerable yet so courageous that makes her such an interesting person to follow. A lot of the time when you read a book like this, it's easy to blame the person for their own misfortune. Some other people repeatedly return to the abuse or jump from one abusive situation to another due to poor decision making. Mia is not like this. Mia's situation is very understandable. She was raised from birth in a culture and a family and a society that nurtured the idea that she would belong to a man like a watch or a car. She was also repeatedly lied to after the fact about what would happen to her or her children if she asked for help (that she might lose her kids if she disobeyed her husband or that they might be sent back). It's absolutely heartbreaking to read.
Mia does learn and evolve throughout the story, learning to stand up for herself, learning some tricks to avoid her husband tracking her finances, and picking up on warning signs from other men in her life (like a boss at a restaurant).
Anyway, the only unfortunate thing about this book that hurts the rating, unfortunately, is the formatting. It's grammatically sound and the writing is quite good, which is very impressive considering that Mia speaks and writes English as a second-language, not even understanding it until moving here with Fayed. The formatting is simply missing indentations and the double-spacing is a bit of an eyesore. If you were just to flip through this book without paying attention to its beautiful content, you might turn away and put it down just because of the formatting. However, that's not fair in our opinion. This book truly is extraordinary!
Mia, in contrast to Fayed, is a superb and wonderful human being who has endured and overcome so much to be here with us today. She is a terrific mother, criminal justice scholar, and business woman. The way she tells this story is second to none: full of details and descriptions from an extraordinary memory.
Some of our favorite quotes from this book are "...because it's my job to be your sunlight" and "today is the first day of the rest of your life."
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