Sky At Our Feet


“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew-- and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around” --Maurice Sendak, from Where the Wild Things Are, as painted on an outdoor stairway at the Central Park Zoo

“‘I fall behind in school,’ my mom explains, continuing the story. ‘They sent me letters. I tried to explain I need time. You were so small and still in the hospital. Then I got one letter that says I cannot be in this country. The letter tells me I have to leave, but how can I go? My baby is in the hospital and your father’s grave is not yet covered in grass. And the people who called our families, they were still calling. They are angry because your father’s face was on the front of the newspaper and many people loved him. The bad people, they promise that the country will never be safe for his family.’ So she stayed in America. But with my father dead, what were the chances that they would give his family a visa? Who could she ask without risking being sent back to Afghanistan? At any point, she could be found. At any point, she could be arrested. She had an expired passport and an expired student visa. That meant that if the authorities found her, they would send her back to Afghanistan. Knowing what happened to my father and the terrible words the people said, she had to make an impossible choice.”

Twelve year-old Jason D. Riazi is a American citizen, with an Americanized name, living in New Jersey. He was born here. As a premie, he began life with an extended stay in the hospital.

But his Afghan mother doesn’t have the blessing of American citizenship. She’d just arrived in America on that student visa when she learned she was pregnant. Jason’s father, an Afghan who was working as a translator for the American forces in Afghanistan, had successfully secured his wife’s student visa shortly before he was murdered.

All these years later, it’s only a matter of weeks after Jason’s mom explains to him that she’s been  in the country illegally, that Jason sees his mother being handcuffed at work and dragged away. He’s sure she’s going to be deported to Afghanistan.

Jason runs home to their little apartment just long enough to grab a change of clothes and some parental photographs before heading toward Manhattan where “Auntie” Seema, his mother’s best friend in America, has recently moved. But short of sustenance, Jason passes out in Penn Station, sustains a concussion when he falls, and ends up in the pediatric ward of a Manhattan hospital. That’s where he meets Max, a girl his age who is pretty cagey about why her head’s all wired up to electrodes, and why she’s as determined as him to escape the hospital.

There is as much of a joy vibe, as there is tension, when the duo successfully breaks out of the ward and heads to the Central Park Zoo--Max’s wish fulfillment--on the way to tracking down the apartment where Jason’s “auntie” lives.

What will happen to Jason D., his mom, and to Max?

There has always been a push among some Americans, no matter how recently their own forebears arrived, to exclude others from having the same opportunities to escape dangerous or miserable countries and come to America. “Do these strangers belong here?” is a question that divides those of us who are mindful that our own forebears were despised foreigners not all that that long ago from other Americans whose memories are shorter and whose hearts aren’t so generous.

Author Nadia Hashimi, M.D. has woven her own background as a first-generation Afghan-American with aspects of her work as a pediatric doctor to craft a tale that is exciting, heartstopping, topical, and realistic. And joyful. While hinting at the fearful political situation that plagues immigrants in today’s America, she delivers a tale that’s filled with great riddles and actually has a happy ending.

This is one that I’ll be talking up to the 10-to-14 year-old crowd.

304 pages            978-0062421937                Ages 10-14

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations:  Richie's Picks


This #ownvoices novel by bestselling author Nadia Hashimi tells the affecting story of an Afghan-American boy who believes his mother has been deported. For fans of Inside Out and Back Again and Counting by 7s.

Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.--from the publisher

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