A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi, Quill Tree (an imprint of HarperCollins), 9780062943200, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Although her mom was born and raised in Karachi, 12-year-old Mimi has never been there or met her grandparents. She lives in Houston and money has been tight since her journalist dad walked out 7 years ago. But suddenly she and Mom are off to the ancestral home for the summer, despite Mimi’s lack of enthusiasm. I’m guessing Faruqi read Dickens as a child because The Prince and the Pauper definitely feels like a subtext here. Sakina’s father works for Mimi’s grandparents as a cook and she’s his assistant, although she dreams of one day attending school. The girls become friends, each contributing something to the relationship: Mimi helps Sakina improve her English so she can pass an admissions exam, while Sakina searches Karachi for Mimi’s AWOL father.
Faruqi uses alternating first-person narratives to tell her story and also has Mimi confide her thoughts to a journal, made up of letters to her absent father. The book is alive with the sights, sounds, smells and especially tastes of Pakistan as the two girls explore the city and learn about each other’s lives. Although Faruqi does draw a sharp contrast between Mimi’s living conditions and Sakina’s and refuses to turn her readers’ eyes from the local girl’s poverty, the book never feels preachy; it feels respectful and real. And it’s fun too; the girls ride a camel, watch a Pakistani beauty pageant on TV, and eat endless delicious meals. I also liked how the many adults in the story emerge as well-developed characters: the gossipy maid, Mimi’s stern and grumpy grandmother, and Sakina’s kind and resigned Abba. The happy ending is age-appropriate and realistic enough so that I could buy it. The author includes a glossary and also an afterword about growing up in Pakistan and her more recent visits with her own American-born kids. All the characters in the novel are Pakistani, except for Mimi’s White father and Mimi, who describes herself as half-and-half.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The book takes place during an election, but I didn’t feel that added much to the story. I would definitely have preferred more time spent on the friendship.
To whom would you recommend this book? Middle-grade readers. The wholesome content would even make this a good choice for younger readers with a strong interest and more developed skills.
Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes. A very sweet but substantial book.
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: April 3, 2021
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