I see the author regularly posting positive feedback for this book and after feeling let down by the last book of hers that I read, that had a great premise, I tentatively reached for this one. The book is meant for children in grades 2 through 5, but the writing seems a bit all over the place and some of the vocabulary is above that level. The book is 67 pages and reads like a rough draft that has so much potential to be fleshed out, enhanced, and cleaned up.
The book takes place in Pakistan and is told from the perspective of Akram, an 11-year-old boy and a Jinn who he names Peeper. Akram is apparently funny looking and behaves old for his age. Those around him find him too contemplative and off compared to his peers. He seems to be an only child and his family is middle class, but they live in a really weird neighborhood and while they have a maid, they are really tight with food and money. Akram has a passion for peeking in on old houses and imaging stories for the inhabitants.
Peeper is a Jinn, a good one, who doesn’t like to see suffering of small children. He sneaks on Akram and sees what praying is and what being a Muslim is. When he says “no” to his tribe to help plan a party for shaytan, he is punished and made human. And as a human he and Akram explore the six abandoned houses next to Akram’s house snooping, making assumptions, involving the police and ultimately saving the day.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the premise of a boy and a jinn learning about Islam and trying to help those around them who are suffering. I like that the foundation of being Muslim is what shapes both boys perception of the world as they pray and use AllahuAkbar as a super word to protect themselves. Unfortunately the author’s writing style is very befuddled and these lessons are not clear. The tenses change through out as does the point of view, with sometimes it being the characters being in the story and sometimes them preaching to the reader. There is a lot of repetition of ideas, often disconnected random ideas, and in such a short book it really stands out. Similarly, everything is really vague, no characters other than the main two are named, numbers of people aren’t identified, “…came in with 10 to 15 people, (page 62).” Everything is very fluid and not in a helpful way. The verdict of Peeper getting expelled from his tribe should have been a major plot point, but it is so quick and anti-climatic, that it really makes no impact. In a fantasy story, world building is critical, and there is nothing understood about the world of the jinns. It says they are evil and horrid, but Akram misses them and wants to go back, which makes no sense and their are no details to show why he would think some in his tribe are good and kind, so when at the end they take shahada, it is completely fuzzy and confusing how one concept links to another. Even the point of the story is befuddling, sneaking is wrong, but their intentions were pure, they got all their assumptions wrong, so they get medals and get rewarded and are encouraged to sneak more, but with permission? So, ya, all over the place. The happy ending is that the mom is suddenly praying and religious, but no explanation of what changed her is given, so it falls rather flat.
Aside from my own thoughts on the story, there are blatant contradictions that aren’t explained. Peeper says he wish he knew Arabic, but he came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran, so how does he know English, but not Arabic from Syria? Peeper also says on page 28 he doesn’t understand fajr, but on page 23 he says he watched Akram pray all 5 daily prayers. The whole premise of Akram and Peeper being drawn to each other is their nosy curiosity and their compassion for others, but the whole scene with how they let the maid take the fall for the missing food is so out of character, and then when Akram is rude to Peeper about what his parents would say if they saw him is very jarring to how the character has previously been presented. Neither situation is really resolved either and I really am worried that the maid lost her job and Akram didn’t even try to fix it. The author tells us they are nice, but shows us two examples when they are not, so it isn’t very convincing that they truly are nice until they try to help the neighbors. The inhabitant in one of the abandoned bungalows they assume is poor and deliver biscuits to him, but they note that he has bars of gold in his cupboards, so obviously he isn’t poor. It is noted that Peeper can deliver the mail secretly with no one knowing where they came from, yet the police know that Akram is the one that alerted them to everything going on in the six bungalows, another contradiction that isn’t explained.
Some of the vocabulary was also troublesome for me. The glossary at the end of the story and before the activity coloring and word search pages, jinn is defined as ghost, but they aren’t dead human spirits, so I disagree with that. At one point the book mentions “elders of Islam” which is vague and odd, as well. There are poems at the beginning of each of the 21 chapters, that are very forced rhyme and use words I had to look up: hoary, momento mori, atavistic, not saying that kid’s can’t handle hard words, but there are many passages that have words more middle school in nature and with unconnected concepts, context clues are rather non existent.
There are little illustrations scattered throughout, but they are inconsistent in style and the copy quality is a bit poor, so they are not really helpful. Akram does not have a face drawn in, but the jinn does.
There is nothing alarming.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, and I wouldn’t stress having a copy on a library shelf as I don’t think a child would willingly read it and understand it.