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Young Adult Fiction 493
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow
(Updated: July 07, 2022)
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AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW by Zoulfa Katouh is an upper-YA novel set amidst the Syrian revolution. Salama, a budding young pharmacy student, has been forced into a role at the hospital she wasn’t prepared for as many medical professionals were killed in the resistance. Salama, no stranger to death, lost her mother after her father and brother were arrested at a protest. Practically alone and wrestling with whether or not she should flee her home country, Salama meets Kenan, who also lost his parents, but is committed to staying in Syria. As the military closes in around them, Salama’s head and heart debate over what to do. If she stays in Syria, it seems like a matter of time before she is killed too, but if she leaves and survives the crossing, she may arrive in Europe dead on the inside.

Every element of this book is fantastic. Katouh takes Salama on the most heartbreaking, yet hopeful journey, and does so with vivid prose, serendipity, romance, and brutality. The story never shies away from the truth of what Syrian people are facing, which allows readers to imagine themselves in that situation. Personalizing tragedies that are happening seemingly far away forces us to not only acknowledge them, but to also not look away. Because of that, it’s important to note the book’s setting as it may be triggering for those with a sensitivity to war imagery and devastation. That aside, this novel, while fiction, is based on and around real historic events. Frankly, it should be required reading and is a great introduction to what’s been happening in Syria for those who may have been previously uninformed.

That being said, while this novel explores difficult and painful themes, it doesn’t make it any less magical. Each character feels fully realized, including Syria itself. This book comes alive on the page and is just as unpredictable as real life. I was scared for Salama every time she walked from the hospital to home or elsewhere. I felt her despondence every time she had a new patient she didn’t know how to save. I felt her butterflies every time she talked to Kenan. I cared about her deeply and rooted for her and all the other characters to survive. There are multiple twists in the story I never would have predicted, and it kept me on my toes, just like the characters are. In fact, I didn’t want to stop reading. I would’ve preferred to not have an epilogue and to see everything that transpired after the last chapter.

Katouh masterfully weaves many threads together to form a raw, nuanced, and deeply human plot that will make you think, swoon, and brace for impact. AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW should be on the top of your must-read list.
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