Last night, I finished yet another of the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. The book was Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai. This book is a companion novel to Shooting Kabul, but you definitely don’t need to read the first book to appreciate the second. The two stories stand on their own. (I haven’t read the first book, but I may change that after reading Saving Kabul Corner. I liked it more than anticipated.)
Before I give a synopsis of Saving Kabul Corner, let me say that I love that this book is on the SCCBA list for next year. It gives readers the opportunity to look at a realistic representation of Afghan-American culture, something that some of them only see portrayed negatively–whether on the news or in conversations they hear. Maybe it will help them to be more empathetic. At the very least, I hope this book will start some conversations, and I am thrilled to bring it to the attention of students, parents, and my fellow educators.
Life was going great for twelve-year-old Ariana until her perfect cousin Laila moved in. Where Ariana is kind of a tomboy who loves television and origami, Laila is the perfect Afghan girl. She speaks Farsi, Pukhto, and English, she cooks, she helps out at the family grocery store, and she has impeccable manners. Ariana doesn’t see how she can possibly measure up, and she’s not too happy that she has to share her room, her school, and now her friends with Laila.
Things go from bad to worse for Ariana (and the rest of her family) when another Afghan grocery store moves into their shopping center. The adults are tense due to this competing store, and there’s talk of a family feud that goes all the way back to Afghanistan. That talk only intensifies when both stores are vandalized. Neither family claims responsibility for these actions. What could possibly be going on?
Ariana, curious by nature, begins to gather clues as to what’s happening with the rival stores, and she eventually enlists the help of cousin Laila (who’s not as bad as Ariana first thought), her best friend Mariam, and Wali, the son of the other grocery store’s owner. These four kids investigate who could have something to gain by destroying the two stores. What they find will surprise everyone.
Can Ariana and company solve this mystery, save their family businesses, and somehow restore peace to their families? Find out when you read Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai.
I think Saving Kabul Corner could shine a light on a culture that many American readers may not be familiar with. I admit that I knew very little about Afghan culture before reading this book. Now, however, I want to know more. I’m hoping that my students feel the same way. This book could serve as a tool for understanding and appreciating differences–and similarities–instead of allowing preconceived notions or fear color how people are treated.
Not only does Saving Kabul Corner educate readers about Afghan culture, it also highlights the political climate in Afghanistan, now and in the past. This book does not shy away from talking about how women are treated in Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and the current circumstances in the country. Many who read this book may just want to do further research about Afghanistan, its volatile history, and how America has impacted the country and its people, both positively and negatively. (An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information.)
Aside from all of the cultural and political stuff, Saving Kabul Corner is a good mystery reminiscent of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Scooby-Doo. (There are no dogs in this book, though. That’s a good thing, in my opinion,) I recommended this book to several of my mystery-loving students today, and I’m sure they’ll enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together as much as I did.