An entertaining, thoughtful look at a complicated historical, religious, artistic, and cultural crossroads.

STREET OF STORYTELLERS

In this YA thriller, an American teenager in Peshawar faces an ethical conundrum when he’s recruited by jihadis to destroy his father’s project.

It’s December 1984, and Luke Sands, 15, is angry that because of his parents’ recent divorce, he has to spend Christmas vacation with his father in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Professor Sands is so obsessed with writing a book about an ancient civilization in the Peshawar Valley that it broke apart his marriage, and Luke wants nothing to do with the project. Luke shuts down and refuses to go sightseeing, preferring to listen to Bob Marley on his Walkman. But when father and son reconnect with the Shaheens, a Pashtun family they’d known back home in Saratoga, New York, Luke is drawn to the rebelliousness of their son, Rasheed, or “Rashi,” and to the beauty and intelligence of Rashi’s younger sister, Danisha, “Dani.” Although Luke makes a rash promise to help carry out a fatwa against his father’s book, he also gains a new appreciation for Pakistan’s rich cultural past when he’s introduced to Pir Sahib, a wise Sufi teacher, and hears traditional music at the shrine of a Sufi poet. Meanwhile, Luke struggles with his feelings for Dani, because any interaction is forbidden in strict Pashtun culture. A dangerous culture clash brews that puts people, artifacts, and scholarship at risk. Wilhelm (Treasure Town, 2016, etc.), a prolific writer of middle school, YA, and Choose Your Own Adventure books, offers an absorbing, rich historical tale. The thriller educates readers about the mid-'80s forces that led up to 9/11, and Wilhelm also provides a useful historical afterword covering 1985 to the present day. An especially strong, moving, and well-described theme is the power of music to overcome barriers of many kinds while the book also honestly acknowledges limitations and challenges in fighting extremism. Luke is a believable character who makes mistakes but also redeems himself with courage and generosity.

An entertaining, thoughtful look at a complicated historical, religious, artistic, and cultural crossroads.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-57869-016-9

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Rootstock Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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