This is a simple story on the outside that has a lot fine nuances in the way it’s told that make it a great story. Fadi and his family live in Afghanistan right before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The Taliban has gone from being the heroes who liberated the people from warlords to being the warlords. Fadi’s father is asked to join the Taliban, the father says no, and the family knows that they must leave quickly because no one tells the Taliban no.
Even though I knew ahead of time that the little sister would be left behind (that’s in the cover synopsis, so I’m not ruining much), it’s how Senzai tells it that makes it emotionally jarring. It’s third-person perspective limited to Fadi’s viewpoint. A middle schooler is not as naive as an elementary school student, but still doesn’t know all of the details of what danger awaits his family.
Fadi is able to make it to the United States and struggle with the traditional middle grade conflict of dealing with bullies. What sets this apart in Shooting Kabul, though, is that Senzai shows how bullying increased after the World Trade Center attacks. The types of slurs the bullies use are the exact same I heard uttered in 2001. Only once did the dialogue seem a little far-fetched: a janitor yells, “You ruffians!” It took a serious scene, where Fadi is alone and jumped by bullies, and made me laugh, which is not the reaction I wanted.
The photography aspect of the story is interesting. You can tell that either Senzai is a photographer or has done her research. Fadi’s father gives advice on how to take better photos that readers could apply to their own photos immediately.
Like I said at the start, Shooting Kabul is a simple story. There are no car chases, no life-threatening illnesses, and the controlling government is not the main antagonist. The book does have realistic interactions between Fadi and his family. Fadi’s motivation, winning a photo contest to travel across the world to find his sister, runs throughout the entirety of the story and never lets us forget just why we like Fadi.