A Thousand Questions

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A Thousand Questions
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Release Date
October 06, 2020
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Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.

This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Summer in Karachi
(Updated: November 04, 2020)
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Mimi and her mother like in Houston, Texas, but things have not been going well lately. Her father, a US born reporter, left long ago, and her Pakistani born mother has struggled to make ends meet by teaching and creating art. Mimi has never met her mother's parents, but is unsure about spending six weeks visiting them in Karachi. Nana and Nani are well-to-do and were greatly disappointed in their daughter's choice of husband, but glad to see their family. Sakina works with her Abba in the kitchen, where he cooks and she helps with a variety of chores. Secretly, she hopes to attend school, and has passed the entrance exams except for English. The girls are wary of each other at first; Mimi thinks that Sakina should want to be her friend, but Sakina knows that she is a servant who needs to work and not make Mimi's grandmother angry. Besides, her father's diabetes is not well managed, and he needs her help. Mimi is using a journal her mother gave her to keep track of her trip to write letters to her estranged father, whom she misses. Eventually, the girls warm to each other, and Sakina asks Mimi to help her with her English. The two are given permission to go sightseeing with the family chauffeur as well. Both girls have a lot to learn about the other's culture, and things don't always go smoothly. Mimi learns that her father is in Karachi, and is already angry with her mother for hanging out with a man she knew in college, so the girls try to locate him, finally pinpointing the newspaper employing him. As the visit nears an end, there are some issues that the girls must address, but they are able to treat each other with kindness and help each other out.
Good Points
Faruqi has taken a personal trip back to her hometown and crafted a rather brilliant novel about trying to understand other cultures... even one's own. Sometimes, this sort of examination comes off as a bit negative and whiny, but Mimi and Sakina are both very good natured and really try to understand how their actions look to someone else. There are a few instances of misunderstanding or tension, but they are very realistic, and the girls move past them. The descriptions of daily life in Karachi are well done, and like so many novels involving cultures from the Indian subcontinent, there's a lot of FOOD! I really want a bun kebab now! There's some interesting discussion of local politics, marriage traditions, and the differences between the wealthy and the poor. There's also a very interesting scene where Sakina and Mimi pray even though both are not very religious. The descriptions of Sakina's home life are something that my students really need to read. The fact that she is not able to go to school will shock many of them. I enjoyed this very much!

I love a good travel book that gives some insight into a culture I don't know well, and this is brilliant because it gives opinions on both Pakistani and US culture from two view points. Perfect for Narsimhan's Mission Mumbai Bajaj's Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood. or Krishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.
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heartfelt and genuine middle grade contemporary
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A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a heartfelt contemporary middle grade that transports the reader to Pakistan. Mimi is 11 years old and half-Pakistani/half-European American. Her father left when she was little, and she still misses him dearly, even though her mother does not wish to talk about him. Mimi is worried about spending the summer in Pakistan, where she will stay with her grandparents that she does not know very well.

When she arrives, she dislikes the heat, but she is shocked to find out that her grandparents are really rich. It also gives her questions about why her mother chooses to live the life of a "starving artist" in the US. Mimi also thinks she may have found a friend in one of the servants who works there.

Sakina works in the kitchen with her father to help provide for her family, who live in relative poverty with little food and water. She is the same age as Mimi, but she has never been to school, needing to work instead. Despite that, she has managed to educate herself and is close to being accepted at a good school where she desperately wants to go. The only obstacle is how much English she knows, as she will need to pass the English exam. When Mimi keeps hanging around, Sakina decides to have her help with the language and can't help but dream of all the things Mimi takes for granted.

What I loved: Both Mimi and Sakina leap off the page as so genuine and real that they are easy to imagine and impossible not to love. Their friendship grows slowly, and it was a pleasure to watch with both of their perspectives provided. The juxtaposition of economic status was also stark and helps to open middle grade readers' eyes to these differences. All of the characters in the book grow on the reader throughout the reading, and I loved both the main characters and their families. All of the characters are beautifully crafted.

The city also really came to life here, and it's easy to believe that the author has so much experience with it. The descriptions are so vibrant that they transport the reader there. Considering the novel was based on her experience with bringing her children to Pakistan, the novel also resonates as so true and real.

There are also some interesting secondary themes in the book that really add some power to the text, including but not limited to challenging familial relationships, socioeconomic disparity, the value of education, and the importance of learning about and understanding other cultures.

Final verdict: Overall, A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a beautifully crafted middle grade contemporary that brings the reader along for an unforgettable, heartfelt, and genuine journey through the friendship bonds forged over a summer in Pakistan. Highly recommend for all middle grade audiences.
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