Saturday, July 14, 2012

YA Book Review: Shooting Kabul

Shooting KabulShooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading multicultural titles Bamboo People, by Mitali Perkins; The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez; and Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, I started to become critical of the books I made available to my students. I took stock of my classroom library--several hundred titles--it was lacking in variety. Where were the multicultural books? Where were the books that appeal to boy readers? Where were the books that could challenge my best readers? For each category I could think of, I wasn't happy with had. What I had was a mostly inherited collection of books, passed along by two retired teachers. I hadn't taken care of the collection by growing it, and retiring the titles that had seen better days.

What had I been exposing them to that had any contemporary value or resonance in their own lives?  Sure the yellowed and tattered Newberry winners from twenty years ago still ring true, great writing is great writing, but what about the literature being produced now? 

For the past two years I've been on a reading blitz of sorts. As best I can I pick up YA titles and have found that YA multicultural literature is out there. It just wasn't in my classroom. So, in addition to titles I mentioned above, I discovered A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata; Finding Family by Tanya Bolden, and Heart of a Samuri, by Margi Preus.

I read A Step from Heaven by An Na; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; and One Crazy Summer by Rita-Williams Garcia.

I read All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg; Someone to Run With by David Grossman; and Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham.

Now I've read Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai. And I will be thrilled to include it in my classroom library and offer it as a book talk at the very least.

Fair or not, I am beginning to build up a expectations as I pick up contemporary YA literature. Each sub-genre carries unique expectations. Through the multicultural lens, I'm hoping my students would pick it up and be exposed to something they may not encounter in their everyday lives.

Shooting Kabul is built on the days around 9/11. Those of us who lived it (and taught through it) weren't just exposed to hatred, but immersed in it...from all directions.

Interestingly, the author notes at the end of the book that she did not want to write this book because of the sensitivity of the topic. The wounds still have not healed. How could they? Equally as interesting, my 8th graders this past year knew very little about 9/11.

(Where has the time gone?)

Oh, they knew "of" it, sure. But what was missing that had a real presence other years--an emotional knowledge and connection. The emotional knowledge of living it or gleaning bits and pieces through their family. Through the passage of time, it appears that 9/11 is beginning to take on the patina of an encyclopedia entry.

Shooting Kabul has us watch as families escape an Afghanistan growing more oppressive beneath the Taliban. Based on some of her husband's family history and escape from Afghanistan, Senzai offers many details (and opportunities for questions and classroom discussion) that my students would not likely encounter.

The family's new life in America is shattered by the events on 9/11. Living in an community called "Little Kabul" we see, from a unique perspective the fears and pressures on anyone not white. Even a Mexican is called a terrorist by an adolescent.

One note, "Shooting" in title is a reference to a camera, and not violence.

Senzai offers a comprehensive glossary of terms familiar to her culture, and unfamiliar to my traditional classroom composition.

The book reads very easily, but you wouldn't be coming to this book for its complexity of style, but for the richness of what the topic offers. I can't help but offer another photography term: exposure. Put this book on your classroom library shelf simply for the exposure it affords into a world unfamiliar to our eyes other than through the images depicted on the news--accompanied with so many explosions and so much death.

Shooting Kabul is about perseverance, love, and tolerance. I anticipate many kinds wanting to talk about what they confronted in this novel.

I highly recommend it.

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