Summary: A Thousand Questions
Maryam (Mimi) has a thousand questions for her dad who left her and her mother when she was younger, but her mom seems to have moved on and won’t talk to her about him. Her mother Samia is an artist and money is often tight for both of them in the city. One summer, Mimi’s mom decides they will take a trip to Pakisan (!) where Mimi’s grandparents live. Imagine how thrilled she is to learn that her dad (globe-trotting journalist) is also currently in Karachi.
Sakina is the daughter of Mimi’s grandparents’ cook. Although she’s Mimi’s age, their lives couldn’t be more different. Sakina works with her dad, doesn’t go to school, and doesn’t speak good English either. She hasn’t told her parents, but she’s studying to pass an English test so she can get a school scholarship for poor children. When both girls meet, they band together to help each other reach their goals: Mimi’s, finding her dad; Sakina’s learning English. The story is told from both girls’ perspectives in alternating chapters.
Karachi comes alive for an immersive travel experience on the page. Readers see a portrait of the city — the poverty, the grand buildings, the rickshaws, the food, and even politics. The mouth-watering meals Sakina and her father prepare are another major highlight in this book. Of course, as you can imagine, the friendship the girls share quickly becomes the center of the story. It’s more interesting because both girls are so different from each other. Mimi is American, bold, sassy, and sometimes a bit rude to her elders, while Sakina is quiet and obedient, even though she certainly hides a fiesty side.
Another enjoyable aspect of the story is Mimi’s interaction with her grandparents — and her grandparents characters for that matter! They certainly add an amount of comic relief. Mimi and her mom also have a nice relationship and they get some one-on-one time while they are in Karachi. On Sakina’s side, readers will see a whole other world where there is poverty, worry about finances, and even fear for safety. Just like her, Sakina’s story definitely has more mature issues and will touch every reader’s heart.
Sakina is a Muslim and both girls briefly discuss their feelings about God and religion. Mimi enjoys writing and keeps a regularly updated diary for her father, which may appeal to young readers who enjoy writing or epistolary-type novels. Finally, there’s the mystery of Mimi’s father as both girls attempt to hunt him down. To me, that was one of the most fun parts of the story and the outcome really cements the girls’ friendship.
I think this moved a bit slowly in the beginning and I was more drawn to Sakina’s character than Mimi’s. I caught myself wanting to return to Sakina’s POV more often.
Overall: A Thousand Questions
I enjoyed this middle-grade novel; it felt like traveling to Pakistan. Saadia Faruqi writes about two sides of a well-loved city: the wealthy and the poor, and shows that each side may have valid reason to envy the other. In A Thousand Questions, a genuine friendship connects two young girls despite the barriers of status, language, and culture. If you enjoy books set in Asia and the Middle East, books about food or friendship, or those with an exciting dash of mystery and adventure, you’ll love this book!
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*I received an e-ARC of A Thousand Questions from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinions in any way.
Don’t miss my interview with Saadia Faruqi tomorrow! We talk about her childhood in Pakistan, why her story is similar to Sakina’s and her forthcoming projects!
Have you read this book or anything by Saadia Faruqi? I’ve heard of her Yasmin early reader chapter book series, but I’ve only ever read her middle-grade writing, like A Place at the Table with Laura Shovan. Which are your favorite middle-grade books with Muslim characters?