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Secrets Under the Olive Tree

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Layla Anwar is a young Palestinian born into a land plagued with an apartheid regime. She knows all too well what it means to be an outcast in a country she calls home. Layla is also an outsider within her village and family. Whispers surround her growing up, ones that mask the secrets her family has kept for generations. Secrets continue to plague Layla's adolescence and ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 23rd 2015 by Nortia Press (first published August 19th 2014)
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Nevien Thank you for your question. Many families navigate being bicultural differently. Some families understand that moving to a new country means adopting…moreThank you for your question. Many families navigate being bicultural differently. Some families understand that moving to a new country means adopting and adapting to new ways of living and it does not necessarily mean giving up on one's own culture. The path is healthy and easier for them. If families try to hold onto their native culture and reject the "new culture," it is a much harder path, and their kids will inevitably challenge them. There has to be a happy medium. Psychologists now accept the idea of acculturation verses assimilation. Families who immigrate to the U.S. need to take aspects of the majority culture enough to live and thrive within their new environment;however, it does not mean to forget or let go of their native culture. Asking immigrants to forget about their native culture (or eliminate it completely) is detrimental to their sense of self. It is unhealthy. It is like bad mouthing one parent in favor of another. Both parents are integral to a child's life just like both cultures are integral and serve a purpose in a person's life. (less)

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Suzan Atallah
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unafraid to step outside of the box, Nevien Shaabneh tugs at the strings of our hearts by humanizing her main character, Layla, and allowing her to learn from her trials and tribulations as well as allowing redemption to be emotion in contention. Secrets Under the Olive Tree helps shed light on the common misconceptions about Islam, Middle Eastern men and women, and the stereotypes that surround them. This novel is unlike any other novel written about Palestine and its beautiful culture. The ...more
Samantha O'brien
Just finished reading Secrets Under the Olive Tree and I have to say I loved every minute of it! I am obsessed with the story and hope there is a sequel! I honestly cannot wait! It was phenomenally written, I mean It kept me up all night! Beautiful novel, must read! Book clubs watch out, this one is heart-wrenching!
William Fitz
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I saw this on an ad on my FB and decided to check it out. I am happy I did! This novel was a great read! My book club is talking about reading it for next week! I have to say I am excited to get the paperback book and run through it again!
SISTERS Magazine
Secrets Under the Olive Tree is a moving debut novel written by Palestinian-American writer, teacher, and poet, Nevien Shaabneh. It centers on the life of Layla Anwar, a carefree yet conflicted Palestinian girl born in a village overshadowed by the eyes of a community where judgmental gazes follow a girl's every move; where whispers shuffle from ear to ear; and where a girl's reputation is as delicate as thin glass.

Secrets Under the Olive Tree is a work of literary fiction that is wrought with
Ben Leiter
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great story! This book is one of the best books I read in years. The journey the main characters face is heart rending. This is a must read book you won't regret it.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Asa tarkhon sha'in wa hoo khariru lakum," - "Do not condemn your misfortune because it could be what leads you to your success."

I won this book in a giveaway some months ago and couldn't read because it was with my cousin.
finally I got my hands on it.
The story revolves around Layla, her past, her present and her future. It's the story of innocence, friendship and long lost dreams.
I weeped at how the writer portrayed the struggles of being a women in a male-driven society. it pulled at my
Shereen Malherbe
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a heart wrenching journey of a young woman's life. I had to put it aside due to exam commitments but the moment I picked it up again, I couldn't get on with my life until I had finished reading about theirs! The book represents humanity, love and the beauty of Islam. What Nevien does, is separate the cultural issues from the true meaning of Islam which represents it in its true light, without ever being judgemental. A stunning debut novel whose characters lives intertwine and become ...more
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The fact that this novel is about a Palestinian girl "born into a land plagued with war and an apartheid regime" is what inspired me to read this book. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it. It is a very interesting and emotional story which remains with you long after you have finished it. It is one of those books which make you feel that you have to read it again! Definitely waiting for the next book by the author.
Jennifer Siemann
My Muslim students, who happen to be Palestinian, recommended this book as one that should be added to the school collection. It's an amazing story that would help the average suburban student to look into the lives of other religions or ethnic backgrounds with courage and understanding. It draws the reader into a life story similar to that of The Kite Runner, a work of realistic fiction that endures its characters to the reader.
Marianne Murray
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Beautiful and harrowing. Nvien Shaabneh speaks with a fierce heart of the impossibility of the situation in which the Palestinian people live - the consequences of post-WW2 international dictates righting one terrible wrong through imposition of another...
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nevien Shaabneh will be at the Chicago Ridge Public Library on Thursday, May 28th at 7 P.m. for a meet and greet and book signing.

My cousin, who is a local high school teacher in the south suburbs first mentioned this book to me a few months ago. I put it on my to-read list and forgot about it. But then a patron came into the library and asked me if I read this book. Since part of my Job in Adult Reference is Readers Advisory and I run a Book Club, I decided to give it a go. Now let me tell you,
Liz P.
Dec 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Liz by: A colleague
Simply impeccable. Really, I only review books I can't stop talking about, and this was one of them. It has thrill, mystery, and had some really unexpected twists and turns. I bought the kindle version, which was convenient because I like to read when I am waiting for a client, but I also bought the book because I like owning copies of novels that I love. Just a great book, I learned so much and dismissed and I will admit that I rid myself of loads of stereotypes. Heard it was fiction, but ...more
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was thought provoking and had me at the edge of my seat.

The author story telling ability is beautifully articulated

Layla took me on her journey, I was right there between the olive trees. I felt the pain and horror of a innocence lost. I felt the confusion and rejection from a father.

this is a must read!
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Story of Layla growing up in war-torn Palestine and Chicago. Always shunned by her village and her father for reasons she never knew until the end. Tragic and powerful.
Karimah Grayson
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is sad when girls must keep secrets to keep themselves safe. This book let me into the culture of some Arabs. It is eye opening and a good read.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
Very disappointed on how inaccurate Muslim Palestinians are portrayed in this book. I was so excited to finally read a modern day piece of "literature" (this is not literature... this is smut and infuriated me the whole time reading it) that would finally give my people a voice. It is a shame that a Palestinian-American woman having the talent of being to articulate an idea and formulate it into a novel would chose to write something that would contribute to how badly we as a people are already ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Mama, please make it right."

Nevien Shaabneh writes a captivating story about the life of Layla Anwar. The story goes back and forth between childhood and adulthood, and how Layla manages to survive in this world. Growing up with strict traditions and expectations, 'Secrets Under the Olive Tree' paints a story that we don't always get to read about. The point of view of Layla is refreshing and makes me crave more from Shaabneh.

The quote above I feel represents this entire book as a whole. There
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
As a Palestinian Muslim Arab born in Palestine and then raised in both America and Palestine...this novel didnt completely sit well with me. Maybe Ill expand on this later. ...more
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I finished very quickly~ SO much to unpack in Layla's story. Wonderful book for a book club.
Arianne Cousteau
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So much to say as I finished the book ten minutes ago. My friend lent me the book and I am going to buy my own because I do want it around. I read the book cover to cover and was truly fascinated. It was one of those good literary books that you are just consumed by. The writing is embracing, although its a summons a tear (both of joy and sorrow). Although fiction, the elements are as real as they can possibly get. I was born in France and have lived in the states for over twenty years. We ...more
Noor Saadeh
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is good and she sure sheds some very sad light on the all too common treatment of wives by Arabs, notably Palestinians. Where did all the male-female thing go so wrong from the writings in the Qur'an and the sunnah of Muhammad(S)? Sadly. merely another slice of one of the many things that ail the ummah. Perhaps an enlightening book for those who either don't realize the depth of the harm that is done to women or maybe for someone who is in a similar predicament. It sends a very scary ...more
Trigger warnings: domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse

I didn't know much going into this story. I wasn't prepared for the rough life Layla would have but I appreciate the care in which Shaabneh told this story. The difficult themes--xenophobia, abuse, misogyny--were handled with care. This isn't one of those stories that uses these subjects in a flippant way to shock its readers. Some stories describe sexual assault in explicit detail but I'm happy to state that that doesn't happen in this
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is the story of Layla, a Palestinian girl whose family moves to Chicago. The author was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Chicago so she brings a lot of credence to her writing. It is a well-told story and comes full circle at the end. This book would give insight to those not familiar with Muslim customs and the role of women but I think it can be appreciated by all women, as abuse and discrimination are not specific to Muslim culture. The book does focus on the negative aspects in that ...more
Oct 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fiction. Learned a lot about Palestinian-Americans, their customs, culture, food, etc. The appalling status of women in this culture. Really interesting. I would have given it four stars for that; however, I didn't think the writing itself warranted a four. It centers on Layla who comes to the United States as a young girl and how she is treated by the various members of her family and then by her husband and his family and the "friends" who rescue her from her impossible situation.
Nancy James
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading the book and couldn't put it down until I got to the Secret! Got my suspense going and kept me interested throughout the book.
rated it really liked it
Aug 29, 2016
Janan S.
rated it it was amazing
Sep 10, 2014
rated it really liked it
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Rana Salameh
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Jul 10, 2017
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Dec 26, 2019
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Nevien Shaabneh is a certified Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity specialist and published novelist from the Chicagoland area.

She travels the country and conducts small and large scale workshops, presentations, and formal and informal training sessions.

She has a Masters in Arts and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Literacy, Language, and Culture with a focus on Diversity and Inclusion from the University of

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