There are some books that carry so much weight, it’s miraculous they get off the ground at all. It can be story weight or character weight, or outside weight from press or advertising. Mockingbird was a very weighty book. Katherine Erskine had to juggle Asperger’s Syndrome, a dead sibling and a community recovering from a school shooting, and I think that the weight of it all put together caused the book to drag its feet on the ground, unable to hold it all in. Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai is another heavy book, but what a difference the right touch can make.
In Shooting Kabul, young Fadi and his family make a daring escape from Afganistan and the Taliban to seek asylum in the United States. But before they can make it out of the city, Fadi is separated from his little sister Mariam, and she is left behind. The family finally lands in Fremont, California, and they try to make themselves a new home while back in Afganistan, the seach is on for the missing Mariam. Fadi blames himself, you see, for letting go of his little sister’s hand in the confusion, and knows he must help bring her back, no matter what it will take. That’s an extraordinary weight to lay on a child, but it does not stop there. Fadi also has to deal with post-9/11 prejudice, especially from a pair of bullies at his new school. He finds hope and a creative outlet in the school’s photography club, which just might offer him a chance of returning to look for his sister.
This book is a small miracle. Senzai is cooking with every burner, and the heat is on high. Considering the unfamiliar (to me) Arabic vocabulary and the extremely heavy subject matter, this book reads like a dream. I ran through it in less than a day, and I don’t feel like I missed anything or shorted myself in any way. I felt thoroughly rewarded by the book, and that is a rare experience. The moment when the truck rolls away, leaving Mariam behind is truly heartbreaking. It made me gasp. Everything that followed was graceful and believable, and handled with a deft touch. If this is how Senzai juggles, I can’t wait to see what else she might have up her sleeve.
Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai
2010, Paula Wiseman Books / Simon and Schuster