I feel like I'm one of a rare group of readers who didn't jump on The Kite Runner back when it came out. I remember people reading it when I was in high school, but it didn't really intrigue me. I did read A Thousand Splendid Suns, which focuses on a mainly female cast in Afghanistan, a premise I found much more interesting because of how women's situation in Afghanistan has changed so much over such a relatively short period. However, the Popsugar Reading Challenge has a category for "A banned book," and I thought this would fit nicely. We don't actually have banned books in the US, so I think this is a silly category to include at all, but some institutions (especially schools, and especially religious private schools) often take issue with books and ban them from the curriculum and libraries. The Kite Runner often falls into the "banned" category in institutions for a few reasons, including swearing, but let's be honest: it's the parents who don't want their kids reading about Muslim and homosexual characters who push for the ban. I'm a huge proponent of letting kids read what they want, because widening your worldviews is good and reading a book can't hurt you, but some people apparently feel differently and that leads to books like The Kite Runner being banned.
So, the plot. The book is narrated in first-person by Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman who spends his days with a servant his age, Hassan. Hassan is the son of a man who Amir's father considers to be family, and so Hassan is also considered family. He was born with a harelip, and for his birthday one year, Amir's father pays to have it fixed. Amir's father includes Hassan in everything, which leads Amir to be jealous of Hassan, who he considers more than a servant but not quite a friend or brother. Amir craves his father's love and approval, which often seem to be lacking, for himself, and sometimes wants to exclude Hassan so he can have his father's attention. It's a complicated relationship, with a lot of complicated feelings behind it. The reasons for these come out later in the book (which I did not see coming; clearly I am out of the loop) and make a lot of sense, and I think Hosseini did a really good job building up to it and tying it all together, making it logical and not just a "Hah! Gotcha!" moment.
Every winter in Amir's neighborhood, there is a kite fighting competition. The kids try to battle each other's kites out of the sky, and other kids chase down the falling kites, which are viewed as trophies--especially the last kite to fall. One winter, Amir and Hassan win the competition and are the last kite flying; while Amir celebrates, Hassan takes off to "run" and retrieve the second-place kite, which they knocked out. When he doesn't return quickly, Amir goes looking for him. He finds him cornered by a bunch of bullies who have harassed Amir and Hassan for years. Amir wants to help Hassan, but he also doesn't; he doesn't want to get in the middle, and he has always been a self-admitted coward. Torn, he ends up standing by as Hassan is raped by the bullies. Ashamed of his actions, he avoids Hassan from then on, and eventually drives Hassan and his father Ali away. Some time after, Amir and his father flee war-torn Afghanistan for San Francisco, where they start up a new life, one that Amir welcomes because it's free of the taint of shame that followed him in Afghanistan. However, decades later the shame comes back when a friend from Afghanistan requests that Amir return to see him before he dies, and tells Amir that there is a way to make things right.
The book is both Amir's fall from grace and his path to redemption, and all of the threads tie together in a way that makes a wonderfully-woven whole. It's a depressing book, at times, the very picture of "bad things happen to good people," but it also includes villains getting what's coming from them. There's no "happily ever after" here, and Amir admits he doesn't know if there will be one at all, but the book ends on an overall hopeful note, with the suggestion that, even though Amir cannot fix the past, he might be able to atone for some of his sins and help pave the way toward a brighter future. I didn't find this a riveting book, one I couldn't put down, but it has lovely language and development, and I can certainly see why it's so popular. I think that some of the people who insist this book be banned could actually benefit greatly from reading and understanding it, but that's probably too much to hope for.
4 stars out of 5.