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The Girl Who Fell to Earth

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  439 ratings  ·  79 reviews
When Sophia Al-Maria's mother sends her away from rainy Washington State to stay with her husband's desert-dwelling Bedouin family in Qatar, she intends it to be a sort of teenage cultural boot camp. What her mother doesn't know is that there are some things about growing up that are universal. In Qatar, Sophia is faced with a new world she'd only imagined as a child. She...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 27th 2012 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Sue
For much of my reading of The Girl Who Fell to Earth, I felt fairly confused about my feelings for the book, perhaps reflecting the author's feelings of confusion with her life and identity as an Arab-American girl and Muslim whose parents lived on different continents and lived quite separate lives. Sophia/Safya Al-Maria is the daughter of an American mother from Pallyup and a Bedouin father from Doha and other places. The couples' history is included in this memoir. Sophia's story is influence...more
Jalilah
Although this book drew me in from the start, I was initially frustrated by the way Al -Maria skipped over many years omitting many details of her life. It left me with many unanswered questions. For instance I wondered if her father ever ended up studying, if her parents ever actually divorced, if her mother ever recovered from the shock of her father marrying a second wife or how her relationship to her sister was. However at a certain point it became clear that although The Girl Who Fell To E...more
Malda
I always wanted to read a book written by a young Arab author touching on existing normal Arab life. Something that was more profound than the stuff that came out earlier this year about life in Dubai. Something that spoke to a generation of girls who lost their identities living away from their home countries in the midst of so many different nationalities, cultures and religions. A book that dealt with issues around Islam and conservatism in the modern way we grew up in and struggled to find t...more
Becky
This book is the story of a woman with a Qatari father and an American mother and her life growing up in Qatar, the US, and Egypt. I felt like the author skimmed over the things that were really interesting, and gave too much information about the less interesting parts of her life. I wanted to hear more about her parents and their relationship. Her mother and father met with very little language in common and in a short period of time they were married and she converted to Islam, and not much m...more
Debra Anne
Part Seattle-an, part Bedouin, part starseed, Sophia Al-Maria gently rattles stereotypes by simply telling her experience as a child of "Other" ethnicity.

The first stereotype she rattles is that of fierce Muslim taboos about sexuality. Nowhere does she say it isn't true that girls are punished harshly for pressing sexual boundaries, but her own story suggests that perhaps this isn't as universal as Americans have been given to believe. She is technically a bastard since Matar and Gale weren't m...more
Caren
I stayed up way too late two nights in a row, reading this book obsessively. The author has had a very unusual life and provides an intimate look inside two very different cultures. Her Bedouin father met her American mother when he went to Tacoma, Washington to study. She was the result of their love affair and marriage. After the family moves to Qatar, however, things begin to fall apart as her father is away from home three weeks out of four, working on an oil rig. When he marries a second wi...more
Catherine
The book began nicely with Al-Maria outlining her father’s Bedouin boyhood and cultural background--although awkwardly written because it wasn’t clear who she was referring to until many pages in--and how he ended up in Puyallup, Washington and met the author’s mother. Their unlikely meeting and love story was interesting and entertaining.

As the story moves into Al-Maria’s childhood and teenage years bouncing back and forth between the Middle East and Washington, it loses a lot of steam and jus...more
Sarah
Towards the end of the book, there's a scene where Sofia al-Maria reviews the video tapes she made during a summer job filming Bedouin in the Sinai as part of an ethnographic research project, and realizes to her horror that much of the tapes consist not of revealing footage of her Bedouin subjects' lives, but of...her talking about herself!

The same could be said of this pleasant but ultimately disappointing book. Sofia moves between fascinatingly different worlds--American small town, resettled...more
Melanie
This book is a coming-of-age story of a girl from the state of Washington who goes to live in Qatar and studies at the American University in Egypt. Her mother's from Washington, and her father's from Qatar. It's nice to know about for a few reasons. First, it offers a rare understanding of how someone in the author's situation has a mixed identity (nationality, language, culture). Second, it provides a common-but-timeless account of growing up through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood...more
Allaire Younica
I really expected there to be some wisdom or insight that Sophia gained from her interesting life and experiences that she would share that would make the book worth reading. But it seems that her conclusion was that there really is no meaning to life, love or sex, and life is merely a compilation of unrelated experiences without meaning. This would appeal to people who don't believe that they can make what they want of this life and don't take responsibility for their response to the experience...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
Growing up as a student at an American school in the Middle East with Indian parents, I'd say I'm pretty familiar with owning a fluid cultural identity. So when I heard about this book, written by a girl who must have been just a year or two behind me in school, I snagged it hoping to see familiar faces and places.

Instead, I was thrown headlong into worlds completely unlike anything I've ever experienced before. While the America I knew was the Santa Monica and Orlando of my summers, Sophia liv...more
Tammie
Sophia Al-Maria has written a marvelous memoir about her life straddling two different worlds. Born from the union of American and Arab parents Sophia never quite fits in. Her American mother eventually ships her off to live in the Middle East with her fathers family when the tenuous teen years become too much to shoulder. Navigating the tribal expectation as an Arab women creates opportunities for clandestine rendezvous. Teen age resistance to adult authority seems to permeate all cultures. Liv...more
Esther Bradley-detally
Compelling - widest range of bicoastal life of anyone on the planet; intriguing writer, a gripper-talented writer speaks of her life from the Pacific Northwest to the desert in Arabian gulf; urban to nomadic, amazing. I'm going to look for this author, and I wish her the absolute best!
Melinda
The Girl Who Fell to Earth delves into cultural complexities in an honest manner in which others towing the fine line between two cultures can relate and understand. A great coming of age story all will enjoy, especially those dealing with disparity in ethnicity.

Al-Maria expresses empathy and warmth to her family and her multi cultural background. As a woman of two different cultures I found this book very appealing and sentiments relatable. I have always embraced my 'uniqueness' and have sque...more
Julie Barrett
I really loved the first part of this memoir but towards the end it all fizzled out. I got the impression that Sophia/Safya had absolutely no idea how to end the book. That's a problem with memoirs written by young people, especially as young as she is (born in 1983). You are still living your life and so once you get beyond writing about your childhood, you are confronted with writing about your adult life - which you are currently living and thus it is hard to get perspective. She probably sho...more
coffeealias
Sophia Al-Maria (is that really her last name?) has written a loquacious, fun-to-read memoir about navigating her confusing teenage years within the international scene. Teenage life, universally confusing, was especially so for her, the improbable daughter of a Qatari Bedouin and an Oregon farm girl straddling two distinct cultures. Her story is entirely her own. The reader never finds out if her parents divorce, if her mother comes to terms with her husband taking a second wife, what becomes o...more
Kelli
Sophia Al-Maria's memoir focuses on her life growing up in Washington State, Qatar and Cairo. Al-Maria's father is from a Bedouin tribe in Qatar and her mother is from Washington. Over the course of her childhood and teen years, Al-Sophia moves from the U.S. to Qatar and then back again. While in Qatar during her teen years, she lives with her extended Bedouin family who had been relocated from their nomadic lifestyle in the desert to a government created urban setting.

The subject matter for th...more
Terry Bartlett-visser
I absolutely loved this book because of its very different subject matter, perspective taking, and cultural comparisons, all from the authors own views and experiences. The Author's mother is American and father is Bedouin. They are polar opposites when it comes to cultural upbringing but end up falling in love, marrying and having children. Cultural differences do divide them eventually and this book is the author’s memories and experiences as she "bounces" between two cultures. The author’s co...more
Erin Sterling
For a woman who does not seem much older than me, her memoir of growing up between a farm in the Pacific Northwest and Qatar is a fascinating, well-written, intellectual, cross-cultural coming-of-age memoir that expands and breaks your ideas of "the Middle East" with regards to gender expectations, cultures, freedom of expression, etc. Starts a little slowly (it's not clear it's a memoir at first except from the title because it starts with the love story of her parents), but picks up.
fets
While I identify with many aspects of the author’s story, I want to commend her for successfully achieving the feat of writing about the intimate details of her life (and her family’s), without turning her account into a sensationalistic report about a ‘mysterious, incomprehensible, backward’ Arab/Bedouin world. We are invited to discover her new world with her, and as she does her best to adjust and stay out of trouble (she really does conform for a long period!), we are given what seems to me...more
Sharon
I read this book very quickly, and was definitely engaged with the story of Sophia/Safya's identity crisis. I agree with the people whose reviews say it was written too early - I think the perspective of her college years could be much more detailed and thoughtful with some more distance from them. Overall, though, I appreciate the effort it took to write such a personal story and admit things to herself (and the readers!) about the confusion of being between two worlds on top of the usual adole...more
Aberforth
Don't pick this book up if you're looking for a book to describe life in Qatar, life in a Bedouin tribe, or anything else like that. You get pieces of that, but it's not the purpose of this book. This is the story of a teenaged girl torn between worlds, dealing with all of that while dealing with the typical teenager angst, navigating familial expectations, and trying to figure out who she is. It's a light, easy, and enjoyable read. I'm interested enough to check out the author to see if she's w...more
Nayab Tariq
A memoir should be written once an author has enough ground to establish good memories, and show good sense. In this book, so often, even as it spanned towards Al-Maria's adulthood, you could see that she acted like a child. She made herself into two different people: the American and the Arab. If she made a choice that was not Islamic, she blamed the American side of herself, and vice versa. There is no proper personality in her character, no sense of religion, no atheism even, its as if she co...more
Sara  (LitHacker.com)
Really interesting memoir which added some depth to my understanding of the great Alif the Unseen. Not the best written in terms of how the story is organized and constructed. Made me appreciate just how challenging it must be to write a really good memoir even if you have had a really interesting life.
Lewes Library
I was overdosed on Afghanistan/Taliban books, and German/Nazi occupation books, and Irish childhood misery books - so when I saw this was about a teenage girl in Qatar, I thought - meh! Wow, was I wrong! This book was current, poignant, enlightening, well written, and memorable. Bedouin man speaking no English comes to America to make good; moves to Pacific Northwest & marries an earthy, self-sufficient American girl; has children; Father misses family & returns to Qatar. Told from the p...more
Allison
I would give this 3.5 stars. It is a memoir of Sophia Al-Maria and her life split between her American mother living outside of Seattle and her decision in high school to go and live with her father's family in Doha. Her father comes from a Saudi Bedouin tribe who comes to the U.S. meets her mother, but after having two daughters decides to go back to Saudi. Her mother moves there with the girls briefly, but ultimately moves them back home. This book is really mostly about her teenage angst in b...more
Catherine
It started off with an interesting premise but I felt it returned to the same old theme of ME guy comes to the states, gets to have a lot of sex but does marry the girl (who loves him very much), then goes home to end up marrying a cousin (without telling his Western wife before he does it . . . Islam does say that the man should ask but that usually doesn't happen from what I can tell).

I know it is a cultural thing that seems strange to Westerners but having had a somewhat similar experience w...more
Holly
This book tells an unusual story of a girl born to a Qatari father and an American mother. She feels that she neither truly belongs to either culture nor is completely comfortable in either. Compounding this is the fact that neither of her parents seem to take much of a concerted interest in who she is, where she is or how she will develop into an adult. She spends time living in both America and in Qatar rather aimlessly. Some of the writing is very humorous and enjoyable but I realize that it'...more
Katie Bliss
I enjoy memoirs, and this one was interesting in that it was about a girl with a Bedouin father who married a girl from Puyallup, and her life ended up being a strange amalgamation of these two cultures and worlds, yet she also never felt that comfortable in either one of them. The book was written well enough, but I got a little frustrated with the author and her aimlessness, which rubbed off on the book, which also took on a directionless drift at times, and I just wish the Sophia had tried a...more
Dwan Tape
I'm going ahead with another four star review because this was a light, fast, and interesting read. This is an almost casual story of a young Qatari-American girl growing up in between cultures. It's a very personal memoir, probably to be read more for ambiance than seriousness. I found her story fascinating, and in many ways I felt I could sympathize with the author. (I, too, feel caught in between or outside the cultural norm.)

My biggest hang-up about the book - it is written from the self-ass...more
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