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Book Review

The White Zone by Carolyn Marsden has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Nouri, a Shiite, and Talib, half-Shiite and half-Sunni, are cousins living in American-occupied Baghdad. They’ve always been close. But as hostilities escalate between the two major Islamic denominations, Talib and his parents begin feeling like outsiders at family gatherings.

After a Sunni attack kills a beloved uncle, Nouri and his other full-Shiite cousins turn their anger on Talib. Talib’s family begins feeling pressured to leave the neighborhood as violence increases and Sunnis are banned from school.

Nouri convinces his younger cousins to help him push Talib’s family out of the neighborhood. The boys throw a rock through Talib’s window with a note of warning. Talib’s worried parents decide to move temporarily and stay with a friend in a more neutral part of Baghdad called Mutanabbi Street.

Talib has always felt a passionate love for Allah. But the more his family suffers and the more violence he witnesses, the harder his heart becomes. He grows angry and questions his faith. Meanwhile, Nouri fights his own inner battle. At first, he plays war and imagines destroying all Sunnis. Later, he ponders how he should treat his fellow man despite the conflict surrounding him.

Nouri begins visiting Talib. He finally admits he threw the rock through Talib’s window. Talib kicks his cousin and knocks him down, and then runs away to plot revenge. He enlists an older boy to help him build a car bomb.

Talib and his father return to their old neighborhood and find it, including their house, in ruins. Angry, Talib wants to go after Nouri. His father reminds him this wasn’t Nouri’s fault.

Talib follows through with his bombing preparations, realizing he will be severing his ties with Allah forever. When he looks outside the morning of his planned attack, he sees something that hasn’t occurred in 80 years. Snow is falling in Baghdad.

Gunfire ceases, and bombs do not fall. For a moment in time, the city feels peace. As bystanders credit Allah for this miracle, Talib realizes he must let go of his bitterness toward Nouri. He bows in the snow and prays to Allah.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Nouri and Talib, as well as their families and most countrymen, are Muslim. Talib, in particular, feels immense love for Allah in the beginning of the story. He never fails to pray when the regular calls to prayer are issued over a loudspeaker.

When his mother asks who will care for him while he’s out of her sight, he replies that Allah will. Even when he’s cold, Talib says he feels Allah’s tenderness filling him like a warm drink. Talib is glad to hear some of the mosque is still intact after the Mutanabbi Street bombing, but he begins to wonder whose side Allah is on.

After the rock flies through Talib’s window, he asks Allah to drain his bitterness. He can’t understand why Allah would allow this to happen to him. The boy who aids Talib with his bomb says Allah helps those who help themselves. The more hatred Talib feels for his cousins, the harder it is for him to focus on Allah.

Talib’s father notices he doesn’t pray anymore. Their friend al-Shatri points out that Allah can be a refuge in hard times and that the war is not his fault. As Talib prepares to use his bomb, he acknowledges that he’ll be severing his ties with Allah forever. After the miracle of snow, Talib realizes Allah is not on one side but cares for both Shiites and Sunnis. He worships Allah again.

Authority Roles

Nouri’s and Talib’s parents do their best to raise peaceful, rational sons in spite of the war and chaos. American soldiers give the boys candy. Talib’s friend al-Shatri allows the family to stay with him when their neighborhood becomes too dangerous.


The word d--ned appears.

Bombings and gunfire are regular occurrences in Baghdad. The boys pass a blackened car with legs sticking out underneath. After the bombing on Mutanabbi Street, blood covers the area, and bodies are carried out on stretchers. People dig for the remains of loved ones. Blackened bodies line the street. As Nouri becomes angrier with the Sunnis, he tells his cousins that throwing rocks at the enemy is no different than throwing rocks at a pigeon. Sunnis in Talib’s old neighborhood are drug from their homes and beaten. Nouri sees the local mechanic lying dead with a bullet hole in his head.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Talib and Nouri lie to soldiers, their parents and each other.

This fictional story is based on a true event that took place in 2008. Snow fell in Baghdad for the first time in living memory, and a temporary, unofficial ceasefire occurred.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 15


Carolyn Marsden






Record Label



Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group Inc.


On Video

Year Published



Society of School Librarians Honor Book, 2012; Best Children’s Books Bank Street College of Education, 2013


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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