Guilt is a heavy burden to bear for adults, and it’s doubly so for a child; children don’t have the wisdom that comes with years to discern when events are due merely to chance, and when they are truly due to an individual’s actions; or maybe kids just don’t know how to rationalize themselves out of it. Fadi Sahid certainly doesn’t. The protagonist of N. H. Senzai’s debut novel, Shooting Kabul, is carrying a huge weight on his small shoulders—the loss of his sister Miriam. Born in Wisconsin to Afghani parents, he moved back to his father’s native land while barely in grade school, and now—a middle schooler—he’s escaped with his family from the Taliban-controlled country. In the confusion of the escape, his 6-year old sister Miriam is lost, and Fadi feels like it’s his fault. Now he’s living in San Francisco, coping with adjusting to a new school and new friends, but his heart is half a world away.

While Fadi can’t imagine things could get any worse, they do—a lot worse—for you see, it’s the fall of 2001, and not long after he starts school, the September 11 attack makes his life almost unbearable, with name-calling, threats and physical violence. He perseveres, however, because he has a goal. Fadi’s one passion is photography, and he joins Ms. Bethune’s Photography Club when he hears about a city-wide student photography contest; the prize is a trip to India, and Fadi thinks that from there, he should be able to make it back to Afghanistan to find his sister!

With a little help from his big sister Noor, and his friend (and potential girlfriend) Anh, Fadi will try his utmost to win the contest, bring his mother Zafoona some peace, and try to stop one bully who has it in for him. N. H. Senzai has written a compelling novel for young readers, one that puts them in the shoes of a culture that’s been largely misunderstood because of recent events. And it has an ending that you won’t see coming; what more could you ask for?

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