When I taught Social Studies in 7th/8th grades, there was a content standard that addressed national events post 9-11, i.e. our War on Terror, and how 9-11 changed our nation.
In English Language Arts, I struggled to find historical fiction that captured the milieu of the 2000s and War on Terror, the Iraq War and later the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. While my students watched a non-fiction documentary 9/11: The Day That Changed the World, it couldn't convey the events' impact on America afterward.
This book does exactly that, while capturing the milieu perfectly, from the viewpoint of 17-year-old Kamran Smith. Part Iranian growing up in Arizona, he's a senior in high school with his hopes set on attending the US Military Academy at West Point. He's a football player, homecoming King, and has a girlfriend he loves.
It all comes crashing down on him when his older brother, Darius, a Ranger and West Point grad, appears in video of an attack on a US Embassy, and later in a staged video of him spouting anti-American messages.
The family is besieged by media and ugly Americans who spray paint "Terrorists" on their home. The US Military detains the entire family, interrogating them and holding them in windowless cells, unaware the others are there. They were unaware Darius had converted to Islam and, at least it appears, has joined a deadly, anti-American terrorist group.
Except Kamran believes in the Code of Honor he and his brother came up with when they were little. It's a silly code his US Military interrogators try to turn against him, as it mentions "slaying monsters." But it's also Kamran's lifeline, in that it's one of the reasons he refuses to believe his brother joined a terrorist group.
And soon Kamran finds evidence he's right, but no one's listening to him. There's a line in his brother's first recorded message, a reference to two of his mother's Iranian folklore heroes and the pretend play the two boys concocted when they were little around the heroes and Jedi warriors.
It's nonsense -- to anyone but Kamran. An unbreakable code, if Kamran can just convince someone it has meaning. Finally, one of Kamran's interrogators, an agent whose IRA brother walked into a business and blew it up with a bomb strapped to his chest, believes him and gives him a chance.
They figure out it, and subsequent lines slipped into the anti-American rants are more coded messages detailing a huge terrorist plot to blow up the Women's World Cup in Canada.
But is that all? This group's leader is known for orchestrating plots within plots, and Kamran sees pictures of what he thinks is Arizona scrub in the background of his brother's messages. He also recognizes a mountain he knows too well. While all the military's experts are convinced his brother's being held in the mountains in Afghanistan, Kamran knows better -- his brother is being held outside Phoenix.
All Kamran has to do is escape from his prison and get to his brother. He makes an unlikely ally along the way and it's a good thing -- he wouldn't be able to make it from Washington, DC to Arizona without them.
I won't spoil the ending. This was a great book, a sit-on-the-edge of your seat read that you'll love!
Teacher's Note: There are no free resources, either educator's guide or discussion guide, for teaching this book, which is unfortunate and is why I'm not recommending it for Teachers on my blog.
However, there are plenty of pay-for-teaching materials available on Teachers Pay Teachers, and you can find pretty much what you need to use this book in your classroom for under $25.
And, while it's clearly a young adult book, there's no reason why it couldn't be used in a 7th/8th grade middle school classroom, as well.