Here’s the second in my reviews of juvenile mysteries for these year’s Edgar nominees!
Author: N.H. Senzai
Age group: middle grade
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Ariana is a bit perturbed that her perfect cousin Laila, who just moved from Afghanistan to California, has honed in not only on her bedroom, but also on her best friend Mariam! Ariana dreams of the day when Laila’s father will return from his job in Afghanistan and she and her family can move into their new home where she’ll finally have her own room. But things never go as planned, and both Ariana’s and Laila’s worlds get turned upside down when a rival Afghan grocery store opens up in the same shopping plaza as Ariana’s family store. This reignites an old family feud that was long thought to be buried back in Afghanistan. When the family store, Kabul Corner, is vandalized, Ariana and her friends decide to find out who’s trying to destroy their business. Is it really the Afghan family who runs the rival store, or is somebody else out to get them?
If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you might remember that I also reviewed Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai’s first book (sort of a prequel to this one) two years ago. While I enjoyed that one, I think I enjoyed this second book even more–probably because it seemed, at least to me, to follow a more traditional mystery plot. There are clear suspects, clear clues, and a good old-fashioned wrap-up of whodunit at the end.
Another thing I really enjoy about N.H. Senzai’s books is that she gives us such a lovely glimpse into the true Muslim culture. I teach at a very ethnically diverse school, and it’s fun for me to see characters with names like that of some of my students: Fadi, Zayd, Naj, Nasreen. Some of my students’ families have fled Afghanistan for the same reasons as the characters in this book, so it helps me to understand what their life might be like at home as they worry about family members who may still be there or may even be helping U.S. forces in the area.
Kudos to N.H. Senzai for a fun mystery! I think I may be adding this as an option for summer reading for next year’s group of incoming sixth graders.