Working with Graphic Novels or Novels for Teenage Readers (EN4 Reflection 7)

Summary of Chapter 1

Habibi, by Craig Thompson, is a graphic novel set in a fictional Islamic land filled with deserts, palaces, skyscrapers, and garbage. In his story, Thompson weaves elements of religious texts and fairy tales into a complex modern world that is burdened by drought, pollution, and greed.

The story begins as Dodola, a beautiful nine-year-old girl, is sold into marriage. Her first sexual experience with her new husband leaves her terrified. Afterward, her husband explains that she does not need to be ashamed of sex within marriage. Over time, he teaches her to read and write. She soon finds herself inspired by the beauty of letters and by the stories she reads in the Qur’an. Then one day, a group of thieves break into their house. They steal all of Dodola’s husband’s valuable possessions, including Dodola, whom they find hiding in a basket. When her husband tries to prevent the men from taking her, they murder him.

At this point, the story jumps three years into the future. Dodola is now twelve years old, and the memory of her husband’s murder still gives her nightmares. She is now living with a small boy, a little black child she calls Zam, in a boat they have found in the desert. Dodola acts as both mother and sister to Zam.

Dodola tells Zam many stories from ancient times and from the Qur’an. One of these stories concerns a mathematical pattern of nine squares that historically held mystical significance in many parts of the world. She shows Zam how to draw the symbols, and she explains how the numbers of the pattern reoccur in the Qur'an. She then creates a talisman for Zam to help him feel brave in their stark desert home.

Zam's real mother named him Cham. However, soon after he and Dodola move into their desert home, he finds a spring that supplies them with water. In this way, he is like Abraham’s son Ishmael, whose mother was a slave. According to one of Dodola’s stories, God ordered...