In thinking of recent bestselling adult books that would appeal to highs school students, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini comes immediately to mind. Much of the novel is set in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the life of the protagonist, Amir, is foreign enough to feel exotic. Even so, his emotional turmoil has a universal ring. With redemption as an ultimate theme, the tragic tale ends with the good feeling many of us seek in books.
The novel follows Amir from early childhood in 1970s Afghanistan through his adulthood in Northern California. As the son of a prosperous Afghan Pashtun businessman, Amir longs for his father’s love. He feels as though he can never make up for the death of his mother, who died giving birth to him. It seems to him as though his father cares as least as much about Hassan, the son of his Hazara servant, Ali. Amir and Hassan pal around together—at least when Amir doesn’t have anything better to do. He, too, is motherless. When he is an adolescent, Amir wins a kite flying contest. Hassan, the locale’s best kite ‘runner,’ scurries away to collect the prize of the second-place kite. When Amir catches up to him, a horrific scene is underway, as the local sociopath (an admirer of Adolf Hitler and a boy who will grow up to join the Taliban) is abusing Hassan. Amir is too terrified to help. He hides in his cowardice and later withdraws from Hassan’s friendship, blaming him for all Amir’s problems.
The novel continues through Amir’s middle age including the move to California, marriage and his own father’s death. However, the incident with Hassan has been the crucible of Amir’s life and he always understands that he has failed. Ultimately, he has the opportunity to redeem himself.
Though The Kite Runner is wildly popular, one is fair in criticizing the novel for relying much too heavily on coincidences. However, when these coincidental events are planted as a frame that allows the final chapters of the novel to mirror the early ones, it’s a nice literary device, and I don’t mind it at all. I like to see how a novelist will try to come to terms with the more horrific elements of real life by exploring them in his writing. There’s some sense in which we all want to create a world in which people heal, and a novel is a good place to begin. As an added bonus for students, this literary frame is something that can be neatly (and intelligently) discussed in a book report or essay. A student who sees himself as a future editor might be a bit more discerning and criticize the inclusion of the last paragraphs, which diminish the impact of the framing device. The Kite Runner is a great choice when a teacher asks you to read something ‘multicultural’ or from a culture different from your own. It will also help you learn a little bit about the various peoples in Afghanistan, a place that smashed through the consciousness of the average U.S. citizen on September 11, 2001.