September 11, 2001
Two teenagers on opposite sides of the globe flee everything they know. In a world turned upside down by tragedy, they are refugees.
Sixteen-year-old Dawn runs away from her unhappy foster home in California and travels to New York City. Johar, an Afghani teenager, sees his world crumble before him. He flees his war-ravaged village and the Taliban, and makes a dangerous trek to a refugee camp in Pakistan. Thanks to his knowledge of English, Johar finds a job at the camp assisting Louise, the Red Cross doctor—and Dawn’s foster mother. Through e-mails and phone calls, Dawn and Johar begin to share and protect each other’s secrets, fears, and dreams, and a remarkable bond forms that gives each of them hope and the courage to find a path home.
This earnest first novel follows the fate of two teens after Sept. 11, 2001. Sixteen-year-old Dawn, a talented flutist unhappily living in her third foster home in San Francisco, runs away to New York, arriving days before the terrorist attack. At the same time, Johar, a 15-year-old Afghani, flees his mud hut with his toddler niece for a refugee camp on the Pakistani border, rather than join the Taliban. The link between these two is Dawn's brusque but well-meaning foster mother, Louise, a Red Cross doctor who treats Johar's niece for pneumonia, and whose absence gave Dawn the opportunity to bolt. Contrivances abound Johar, a hardscrabble shepherd, speaks English well enough to land a job as Louise's translator, and answers Louise's phone every time Dawn calls, allowing the two to strike up an intense friendship. Dawn effortlessly finds a place to live when she's introduced to a foreign correspondent who lets her crash in exchange for taking care of her cats. Unfortunate metaphors and similes pock the narrative (e.g., "his eyes had been hazel pools of warmth" and "her insides getting cold and stiff, like hamburger meat in the freezer"). The story also occasionally pauses for lessons in Afghan political history. Yet the whole is better than the sum of its parts, as Dawn plays her flute to comfort 9/11 families and finds feelings for Louise she had buried, and Johar realizes he's not a coward just because he won't be bullied into joining the Taliban. Ages 12-up.