Diversity, Fiction, Kidlit, Loved-it, Other-cultures, Society

A Book That Melted My Heart – The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth Building A Future On A Broken Past, Healing Through Music And Community

My heart is so full right now. I’ve just closed the book, and my heart is both crying and singing in joy. It has been a while that a book has moved me so much. But The Eleventh Trade is one of a kind and I know it will remain in my heart forever. It’s one of those books you want to shout from the rooftops about, and especially thank the author sincerely for writing it and making the world a better place.

So where do I start? And how do I do this book justice? The Eleventh Trade is both simple and at the same time it contains SO much – in a way, like a child’s heart and mind does, so clean and simple, not yet complex and full of labirynths and riddles, but just as full of life and feeling, experience and eagerness.

The Eleventh Trade is for you whether you’re an adult who is looking for a nice evening read for their child (possibly to read with them!), or if you’re just like me and happen to find happiness in reading middle grade books yourself. It’s a book about kindness and community, and most importantly, it teaches respect for a culture we are often used to seeing through the skewed lens of the “far away news”.

The Eleventh Trade

Check out on Goodreads
★★★★★ 5 stars

Sami and his grandfather are new in Boston. They’ve had a rough past – lost everything they had back in Afghanistan and each other is all they’ve got. Well, then there’s grandfather’s rebab – a musical instrument that helps him bring back at least a little bit of home to their life. That, and earning money through his music. But the rebab is stolen… And Sami feels he is to blame. So he decides that no matter what, he will get the rebab back. But how do you get something back when you’ve got nothing?

Bringing Your Home With You Is Important

The Eleventh Trade shows so well what happens to people who are uprooted from their home in violent circumstances. It would be hard not to feel empathy for Sami’s fate. It must be so hard to understand a different culture that you’re suddenly plunged into – and yet, you have to try to fit it, because they won’t understand you, worse – they’ll think you’re shady and they’ll be prejudiced against you no matter how hard you try.

So Sami and his grandfather cling to the little bits and pieces of their culture – as much as they can keep of it. Eating on the floor on a spread, sitting cross-legged on a chair, playing their own music – small things, but it’s all they’ve got of their home. Which is why it’s so utterly heart-breaking when their music is taken away as the rebab is stolen. I dare you not to get invested in this book when this happens in the first pages – you’ll be rooting and worrying for Sami and his seemingly impossible quest – because it’s so horribly unfair. It’s so unfair that he’s in this situation to begin with, and as if that’s not enough, the last scraps of hope have to be taken from him and his grandfather. You can’t just sit quietly and observe it. There’s no way you won’t get invested.

A GIF of a single tear falling out of an eye

Music Can Also Be Home

So music becomes a home when you can’t find it anymore. Music usually ties us to our most treasured memories. Years after you’ve moved out of your parents’ place, you will hear a song and it will remind you of the walls, the doors, the covers, the smells. The Eleventh Trade takes this even further – for Sami, home doesn’t exist anymore. He will never set foot in his house, or probably even his country anymore. But most importantly, he will never again see his parents. Music for him is the bridge that takes him back like a time machine. It’s the elixir of memory that brings it all back. We all know music can do this for us. The Eleventh Trade makes it into a sincere, emotional part of the story.

Music is the bridge that takes you back like a time machine. #TheEleventhTrade makes it into a sincere, emotional part of the story that's guaranteed to move you. Click To Tweet

This Book Is Culturally Educational

A GIF of the night and the changing moon over a city which looks to be Muslim

I come from a Christian country, and I mean, at least 90% Christian, so my knowledge of a lot of other religions is spotty at best. That’s why I thought The Eleventh Trade did a wonderful job introducing some Muslim traditions to me – particularly those of Ramadan. It’s written in a way meant to bring cultures together, so its really good for Western kids to read and learn about how it’s okay to be different and how you should respect the differences, and not fear them. And while I feel like its mostly written to introduce these Muslim traditions to the Westerner, I will venture to say that possibly some second generation children in the States might also enjoy reading about people who come from a non-Western culture and maybe find themselves in the book – if at least partly. As an outsider, I can’t say if it was accurate, but to me, it looked respectful and loving, and I definitely liked learning about different cultures this way.

Refugee Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s guilt is laced throughout all the novel, and presented in an easy to digest manner – like middle grade books so often have it. Not only does it express the phenomenon well, but it also helps us empathize with Sami, and in turn – with all refugees, no matter where they come from. It teaches us (and since its middle grade, it teaches kids as well) to understand how hard it is to be in a refugee’s shoes and breaks down “them” and “us”, turning it into one big community. There don’t need to be any borders for understanding, compassion and friendship.

A GIF of refugees / migrants and their children from various countries

The Meaning of Community

A GIF of people having a group hug

Community is emphasized so much in this book. If not for the supporting network of kind people, Sami would have never got even through the first trade. But it’s not only that – in the course of the story, he has to deal with quite a few mean people. The salesman who clearly has no heart and holds his rebab hostage. The boy who shames Sami for being a refugee. But Sami’s wonderful community helps him beat all of this and walk away proud. It was truly inspiring reading about people like that, although I know many, many refugees have not been as fortunate as Sami. If our children read books like this one though, perhaps these things can change.


I could not have loved this book more! It has made my heart sing. I know I only talked about the cultural and emotional aspects of The Eleventh Trade, so for those wondering, I will mention that the book has kids playing football (I mean the soccer kind, of course) and talks a lot about the sport itself, and it also shows a deep love for music, as well as art. If your child has one of these interests, it could be a good fit for them. I can’t recommend The Eleventh Trade enough!

#TheEleventhTrade is one of those books you want to shout from the rooftops about, and especially thank the author sincerely for writing it and making the world a better place. Click To Tweet

But Beware Of The Triggers

Triggers include: losing one’s family, enduring attacks and bombing, being bullied and humiliated, being hated for one’s race and descent.

I thank Bonnier Zaffre / Piccadilly Press for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. Receiving the book for free does not affect my opinion.

Have you read any books about refugees? What’s the most emotional story you’ve read recently?

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Hayley @ RatherTooFondofBooks

Oh my goodness, this sounds like such a beautiful and moving book. Your gorgeous review has completely sold the book to me and I’m going to order a copy as soon as I finish post comment. I’d not heard of this book before so I’m really glad I saw your post today. 🙂

3 years ago

This is the book that stood out to me in your earlier post, and after this review, I am SOLD! I am definitely adding this one to my TBR. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful review!

3 years ago

What a beautiful review for what sounds like a lovely and touching book. You mentioned so many things I adore – community, culture, and grandparents (I love grandparents). I think I would love this book.

3 years ago

Call me biased, but I have loved every book I have read that was set in Afghanistan and I think it is a fantastic place to read about. And this book about Afghan refugees seem to fall in the same category. I will definitely love to read this!

Gayathri @ Elgee Writes

Lydia Tewkesbury
3 years ago

Oh this sounds so beautiful ❤ It makes me so happy to think of the kids who will read this and grow up more loving compassionate people as a result

3 years ago

Wow. This one would grab your heart and hang on. Excellent review. Anne – Books of My Heart


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