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. ---from the publisher
320 pages 978-0062943200 Ages 8-12
Keywords: diversity, diverse books, Pakistan, friends, friendship, dreams, new experiences, family, understanding others, growing up, school, empathy, father/daughter, economic diversity, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, Pakistani American author, South Asian culture
“Currently Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 percent of the total population in this age group. In the 5-9 age group, five million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant; in Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78 percent of girls are out of school.”
What an eye-opener! I had no idea that such a large portion of Pakistan’s children do not get to attend school. One of those children is Sakina, an 11-year old servant girl:
“I look up and find the American girl watching me with eyes that are so light brown they seem almost transparent. Her hair is a lighter shade than mine, shoulder length and held back with a sparkly headband. She’s tall, although Abba’s told me she’s my age. ‘American children grow taller and bigger,’ he once said. ‘They eat better food and have fewer worries than us Pakistan folk.’ I can’t believe that this can be true. We eat and drink just fine, thank you very much.
‘What’s your name?’ the American girl asks in English. We’re at the top of the stairs, and her mother has disappeared into one of the bedrooms to investigate her childhood memories. We stand awkwardly together, me in my stained shalwar kameez, she in her T-shirt and jeans.
I freeze. People don’t usually talk to me in Begum Sahiba’s house. They just look right through me as if I don’t even exist.”
The American girl is Mimi, a tween from Houston, Texas who has accompanied her mother to her mother’s childhood home in Karachi. While she has occasionally seen her maternal grandparents on screens, this is the first that she meets them in person. Her grandmother is sometimes angry and tense; her grandfather is more on the happy and mellow side.
“I feel like the new girl in school, wanting the popular girl to like me. Only this isn’t school, and the popular girl hasn’t even seen the inside of one. There’s a tightness in my chest at the thought of all the servants in Pakistan never going to school. All the poor children sitting on street corners and cleaning rich people’s houses.
Nana’s driver, Malik, took me and Mom for a drive around the neighborhood, on our first day in Karachi. We drove to a little park at the end of the street, and then to the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner. At the traffic light was a little boy around six or seven. His face was dusty and his clothes were torn. He held out a filthy hand and muttered words I couldn’t catch because the window was rolled up and the music was blasting in our air-conditioned car.
I didn’t sleep that night either.
I slowly sit up and take out my journal from the bedside table drawer. I know it’s silly to write to a father who left me, who doesn’t ever call or visit me. There’s not even a small chance that he’ll ever read the journal, but maybe that’s why I like writing it. I can say whatever is in my heart, ask a thousand questions, without any fear of being laughed at.”
A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is the story of the friendship that develops between Sakina and Mimi. Both girls have concerns.
Mimi longs to connect with the father she’s never really known and is fearful of her mother’s reconnection in Karachi with an old male friend from her mother’s school days.
Sakina has never attended school and longs to do so. Being from a poor family, she is compelled to go to work with her father at Mimi’s grandparent’s house. Her desire to go to school is not an idle wish. Her father previously worked in a different house in which there were children. Sakina’s job was to play with them. The children were regularly tutored in math, science, and English. Sakina was a talented student, soaking up what the tutor taught, and she became an accomplished and enthusiastic reader.
Sakina has previously taken a scholarship exam without telling her parents, but failed the English portion of the test. She's knowledgeable in English vocabulary; she needs some help with grammar and tenses.
Mimi’s arrival and friendliness is fortuitous for Sakina, who hopes to take the test again and then persuade her parents to find a way to let her attend school. But, as her father’s diabetes makes his health and ability to work more and more tenuous, there seems little hope of Sakina achieving this goal.
During the time that Mimi is visiting, the girls make a lasting connection, as they develop a camaraderie and as each finds ways to help the other.
A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a lovely, enlightening tale that’s immersed in current day Karachi culture and includes a taste of its politics. But, above all, it’s the story of the two girls who make a wonderful connection with one another.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA