Friday, April 4, 2014

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H.Senzai

Twelve-year old-Ariana Shinwari can't wait to have her own room in the new house that her parents have just put a deposit on.  But for now, she must share her small bedroom with her grandmother Hava Bibi and her cousin Laila, who has just recently arrived from Afghanistan with her mother.  Laila's father is still in Afghanistan, working as a translator for the Americans army, a dangerous job that makes him a traitor as far as the Taliban is concerned.

Everyone makes such a fuss over Laila and everything she does, much to the annoyance of Ariana.  Not only that, Laila was the perfect Afghani girl - she can cook, sew, recite classical Afghani poetry and speak three languages _ Pukhto, Farsi and English.  The only thing Ariana felt she could do in comparison is speak English.  Ariana's jealousy of her cousin reaches the boiling point when it looks like Laila is trying to take away her best friend, Mariam.

But soon there are even bigger problems than Laila's presence in Ariana's world.  In the same strip mall, Wong Plaza, that the Shinwari's have their Afghani grocery store, providing the income that will pay for the house with Ariana's new private bedroom, another Afgani grocery store is about to open at the other end of the mall - Pamir Market, owned by the Ghilzai family.  And to make things worse still, the Shinwaris and the Ghilzais were part of a feud that began back in Afghanistan, according to Hava Bibi.

Supposedly, that feud had been resolved and left behind in Afghanistan when the families migrated to America, or so everyone thought.  But when a flyer shows up all over the mall claiming that Pamir Market doesn't sell Halal meat, and when Kabul Corner is broken into and all their stock destroyed, everyone thinks the feud has been resurrected and retaliations seem to be getting more and more dangerous.

Yet, even as the rivalry between the two stores heats up and escalates, Ariana and Laila discover that maybe they can be friends after all.  And it a good thing, because they are going to have to work together, along with Mariam and fellow classmate Wali Ghilzai to solve the mystery behind who is now trying to destroy both grocery stores after Ariana makes an interesting discovery.

There is so much going on in Saving Kabul Corner and yet it isn't overwhelming or confusing.  I actually liked how the feud between the Shinwari and Ghilzai families paralleled that of Ariana and Laila, as did that fact that these feuds were resolved amicably.  Young readers will easily see the connection and understand the resolution.  And bringing in Laila and Wali to help them figure out who is trying to reignite the old Afghani feud shows some real growth on Ariana's part in learning to get along.  

Saving Kabul Corner is a well-written novel that gives the reader some nice insight into what life is like for Afghan Americans struggling to make better lives for themselves.  And, through Laila's story, the reader also sees what life is often like now in war torn Afghanistan.  When her father goes missing, just thinking that he might be in the hands of the Taliban makes it clear that for families like the Shinwarls the violence in Afghanistan still impacts their lives.

Author N.H. Senzai includes a nice glossary at the back of the book for terms that may not be familiar to non-Afghani readers, and an Author's Note that should definitely be read. Though some readers may find the ending a little predictable, or a little too pat, but Saving Kabul Corner is still a book not to be missed and a nice chance to learn something about a different culture.  And even though Saving Kabul Corner is a companion book to Shooting Kabul (which is the story of how Ariana's best friend Mariam left Afghanistan), both books also stand alone very nicely.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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