From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—In July 2001, as 11-year-old Fadi and his family hastily board a truck to begin their escape from Afghanistan, six-year-old Mariam lets go of her brother's hand and is tragically left behind. Their arrival in San Francisco is bittersweet as they are all too concerned about Mariam to appreciate their newfound safety and freedom. Fadi struggles with integrating himself into American middle school culture, eventually finding solace in the photography club. Still, he is most concerned with the part he played in losing Mariam and getting her back. A photography contest with the prize of a trip to India seems to be his best means of finding a way back to Afghanistan to help in the search for his sister. This is a sweet story of family unity, and readers will learn about Afghani Pukhtun culture. Occasionally Senzai relies too heavily on telling when showing would be more effective. Also, at times the dialogue seems inauthentic because it contains more historical detail than would be likely among people of the same background. The relevance of occasional references to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
(S & S, 1970), which Fadi is reading, is never truly clear. That said, this is a worthwhile book about the immigrant experience in general, and Afghani culture specifically. Fadi is a likable hero who learns from his mistakes, and whose talent allows him to make a unique contribution to finding his sister, for the inevitable happy ending.—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH
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Beginning in the months before 9/11, this sensitive, timely debut follows an Afghan family's emigration to San Francisco. After receiving a PhD in the U.S. and returning to Kabul to help rebuild the country, Fadi's father has grown disillusioned with the Taliban (“These are not true Muslims”), and he pays human traffickers to smuggle his family into Pakistan. During the terrifying flight, Fadi's six-year-old sister, Mariam, is lost. After fruitless, life-risking searches, the grief-stricken family tries to begin anew in California, while overseas efforts to find Mariam continue. Conversations often feel purposeful as Senzai educates readers about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Afghan cultural diversity, and the Qur'an's fundamental messages of peace. But she writes with powerful, realistic detail about Fadi's family's experiences, particularly the prejudice Fadi finds at school after planes hit the Twin Towers and the guilt he suffers over Mariam's disappearance. An abrupt but satisfying contrivance brings this illuminating docu-novel to a joyful conclusion, and young readers may well want to move on to the appended resources to learn more. Grades 4-7. --Gillian Engberg
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