From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8 -When her father and brother are taken by the Taliban and her mother and baby brother are killed in a bombing raid during the Afghan war in October 2001, Najmah begins an arduous journey across the border to Peshawar, Pakistan. There, she meets up with an American woman, Nusrat, who has been conducting a school for refugee children while she waits for her husband, Faiz, who has returned to his native country to open medical clinics. For most of the story, the narration alternates between Najmah and Nusrat, allowing readers to see the war's effect on both of their lives. Only when they meet can they come to terms with their losses and move on. However, readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Having cared for the characters and been involved in their lives, they will want to know what happens to them. The use of an American allows the author to provide a clearer description of this unfamiliar world, but because Nusrat is a grown woman, her concerns may be of less interest to readers than those of Najmah, an enterprising and enormously courageous girl. Still, Staples brings the world of the refugee camp to life. Middle grade readers and the adults who teach them will welcome this fascinating glimpse into a world about which far too little has been written.-Kathleen Isaacs, formerly at Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
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*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. In the mountains of northern Afghanistan after 9/11, Najmah watches in horror as the brutal Taliban kidnap her father and older brother. Will they ever return home? When her mother and baby brother die in an American air raid, she stops speaking, and, disguised as a boy, makes a perilous journey to a refugee camp in Pakistan. In a parallel narrative, Nusrat (her American name was Elaine), who converted to Islam when she met Faiz in New York, has set up a rough school for the refugees. She has had no news of Faiz, her husband, since he left to establish a clinic in the north. The two stories come together when Najmah and Nusrat meet in the camp, where they wait in anguish for news of the people they love. Staples weaves a lot of history and politics into her story (including information about the Taliban's suppression of women), and she includes a map, a glossary, and brief background notes to give even more context. But as with her Newbery Honor Book, Shabanu
(1989), it's the personal story, not the history, that compels as it takes readers beyond the modern stereotypes of Muslims as fundamentalist fanatics. There are no sweet reunions, but there's hope in heartbreaking scenes of kindness and courage. For another book about post-9/11 Afghanistan, suggest Catherine Stine's Refugees
(2004). Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved