Saving Kabul Corner

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.

If you’d like more information on Saving Kabul Corner and other books by N.H. Senzai, visit her website or Twitter. As for me, I think I’ll now add Shooting Kabul to my staggering TBR pile.

Happy reading!


Immortal Beloved

Well, it’s day two of the Great Southern Snowstorm of 2011.  Schools have been closed for the past two days, are closed tomorrow, and will likely be closed the rest of the week.  While I’m not really looking forward to making those days up, I am enjoying this time off.  And what am I doing with all of this free time, you ask?  Reading, of course!  (I’ve also taken several naps.)  I finished a charming little children’s book yesterday.  It was about a boy and his cow (Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace).  Today, I finished reading Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan.  This book was a great fantasy novel that put a different spin on what it means to be an immortal.  I’m really looking forward to what happens to the book’s characters in future installments.

Nastasya is over four hundred years old.  She’s seen and done things that would horrify “normal” people, but she’s grown numb to nearly everything around her…until her best friend does something that she simply cannot get past.  After watching her friend take pleasure in using magick to torture and cripple an innocent mortal, Nastasya decides to break with her so-called friends and her party-girl lifestyle.  She just wants out, but where can she go?  Who can she turn to?

Nastasya turns to a woman she met nearly eighty years ago, a kind, compassionate soul named River.  River operates a home for wayward immortals, those who want to overcome the dark magick swirling inside of them.  At first, Nastasya is resistant to everything that River and the other teachers ask of her, but she gradually becomes a part of things at River’s Edge and realizes just how bleak her life was before.  She is forced to confront the atrocities of her past, and she comes face to face with one who played a major role in her life.

Things are by no means easy for Nastasya.  She is learning what it means to fight the darkness within, she’s facing her own demons, and she’s being humbled…a lot.  On top of that, she’s got a crush on a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her, one of the other students wants Nastasya dead, and her “best friend” is doing everything he can to find her.  Why?  Why is Nastasya so special?  She’ll find out soon enough, but, for every question answered, hundreds more will come up.  Nastasya has much to learn about being immortal and weilding her power, but will she use this knowledge for good or for evil?  Join Nastasya on her journey when you read Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan.

If you follow this blog at all, you’ve probably already figured out that I enjoyed this book.  I especially liked Nastasya.  Most of the time, she wasn’t an entirely pleasant character, but she had such a wonderful sarcastic voice.  (You probably can’t figure out why I liked her, can you?)  She’s just so wonderfully snarky.  I also enjoyed how her relationship with Reyn, one of the other students, played out.  That will definitely be a relationship to watch in future books.

I do have one complaint about this book–the title.  As soon as I saw the title, Immortal Beloved, I immediately thought of Beethoven, but maybe that’s just the former music major in me.  (By the way, Beethoven makes no appearance in this book.)  I also didn’t see how the title really related to Nastasya’s character, other than the fact that she was immortal.  It was the “beloved” part that muddied the waters.  I really think another title could have been chosen that really captured the true essence of the entire book and, more importantly, Nastasya’s struggles.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading Immortal Beloved, and I hope you will, too.  The next book in this series, Darkness Falls, is due out in September of this year, and the third book, Immortal Light, will be released sometime in 2012.  For more information on Cate Tiernan and all of her books, visit