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Young Adult Fiction 495
powerful and unflinching look at the war in Syria
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AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW is an unflinching and heartbreaking story about war, trauma, and love. Salama had just finished her first year of pharmacy school when war broke out in Syria. Now, she is volunteering at the hospital as a surgeon, an untimely and horrific promotion, as she tends to the many casualties that come through the door. She remembers the before, when she was a different person with different hopes and dreams, and is faced by the now, where her only family remaining is Layla, her friend and sister-in-law, who is pregnant with her niece.

Salama is haunted by her trauma in the form of Khawf, someone only she can see, who speaks to her worst fears and memories. Her city is under siege with snipers targeting pregnant women and the elderly, and children facing explosives and chemical warfare. She does her best to help the people who come into the hospital, but they are all starving and facing food and medicine shortages that become more pronounced by the day. Salama is trying to honor her promise to her brother to take care of Layla, but the only way she might be able to do so is to buy a smuggler to get them to a boat, which would require a treacherous ride to Europe that they may not survive. Time is running out with Layla's delivery looming closer.

Just as she is deciding to leave, she meets Kenan, the boy she had been supposed to meet before everything happened when he comes to ask for her help for his little sister whose shrapnel wounds have become worse. They connect, and she dreams of how her life would have been if everything had not happened, while they also look to the future - something they see differently but both through the eyes that love Syria and want desperately to hold onto the only family they have left.

What I loved: This is a heartbreaking account of the war in Syria and the many casualties it has created, while understanding why the people continue to fight against the injustices and the horrors there. Salama is such a beautiful character, haunted by her traumas and promises while doing everything in her power to help those around her. Through her eyes, readers are pulled into the conflict and the tragedy/horror of what is happening in Syria, making it more than just a news story.

While the story is certainly full of the true horrors of the Syrian war, it also manages to portray the reason why people are still involved and why it is so difficult to leave. The story also presents the power of connection through the relationship that forms between Kenan and Salama. Amidst the tragedy and the terrible things happening, they have found each other and a new form of support as well as someone to share their evolving visions of the future. Their stories infuse hope into the novel, making it feel unputdownable as the reader follows their dreams and traumas.

While the exact timeline was altered, the book is based on true events of the ongoing war, and as such, really brings the atrocities to light for readers around the globe. As part of this, there are certainly warnings needed for sensitive readers around these events - the book does not mince words and really brings all of these elements to life in Salama's story. It is evocative and powerful, sure to make readers feel her pain and sorrows as they experience these traumas with her.

Final verdict: A consuming and powerful story of war and tragedy, AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW is a beautiful, unflinching, and horrific read that is sure to leave an impact after the last page is turned.
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