Is The Kite Runner OK for 10th Graders?

Is The Kite Runner OK for 10th Graders?

“My 10th grader has to read The Kite Runner for school. Do you know anything about it? Is it okay for him to read?”

“My 15-year-old daughter was assigned The Kite Runner for school. I’m not comfortable with her reading it. Can you recommend a substitute?”

And so it goes. This is our readers’ number one school book substitution request.

The Kite Runner: a Summary

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Riverhead, 2003. 371 pages.

Cover image of The Kite Runner
  • Reading Level: Adult
  • Recommended For: Ages 16 and up* (note considerations below)

Amir (the narrator) and Hassan grew up together in Afghanistan; Hasan and his father are servants in Amir’s father’s household. Both boys lost their mothers as infants, and both nursed at the same breast—a fact which binds them together for life. Hassan is ever the devoted friend (and servant), and Amir thinks of Hassan as his best friend, too… until a traumatic event happens to Hassan while Amir watches without intervening. Amir’s guilt over his cowardice fosters a growing resentment towards Hasan, a bitterness towards life, and a desire to get rid of Hassan. After all, Hassan’s presence is a constant reminder of Amir’s failure. When war comes to Afghanistan, Amir and his father head for America; Hassan and his father stay behind. Decades later, Amir returns to Afghanistan. This time, he works to intervene on behalf of Hassan’s son.

Considerations for The Kite Runner

*Spoiler alert* It is impossible to discuss whether The Kite Runner is “okay” for a reader without revealing a number of spoilers. Please note that this is a review written for parents, not for children.

Amir is desperate to win his father’s attention, but his father values athleticism, not his son’s budding skill as an author. He knows that bringing home the last kite that falls in the annual kite-flying competition will make his father proud. Hassan is the best kite runner, and runs off to track it down, telling Amir, “for you, a thousand times over.”

To bring the prized kite home, Hassan must go through a deserted alleyway. Assef, the resident bully, and his two cronies are lying in wait. Assef demands the winning kite. Hassan refuses. Assef warns him again, saying Hassan will pay if he doesn’t comply. Hassan refuses, knowing how important the kite is to Amir.

What follows (chapter 7) is traumatic: Assef’s two buddies hold Hassan down while Assef rapes him. Amir watches the entire thing.

The description is not overly graphic (compared to some YA novels on library shelves these days), but it is very disturbing to read. Since this is the primary “inciting event” that sets the rest of the book in motion, it is impossible to take out or gloss over the scene.

Unfortunately, there’s more trauma. When Amir finally returns to Afghanistan as an adult, he finds that Hassan and his wife have been murdered by the Taliban. He sets out to find their son, Sohrab.

Sohrab was taken from his orphanage in Kabul by a “man” who sometimes “takes children” in return for sending money to the orphanage. These children become sex slaves in the man’s house. Who is the man? Assef. But Assef not only takes children for his own pleasure, he oversees gruesome public killings on behalf the Taliban. One such killing is described in the book prior to Amir’s attempt to rescue Sohrab.

Amir’s rescue of Sohrab is a grisly, violent affair. Sohrab’s trauma is extensive enough that he attempts suicide. Both barely make it back to America.

One might argue that “all’s well that ends well,” but the book does not end well. After reading this much trauma, readers need a bit more hope than the barest glimmer offered at the end: Sohrab smiles for the first time in a year. He hasn’t spoken in a year, either. He is as fragile as the kites they are flying.

The truth is that without Christ, we are all desperately sinful, desperately trapped in webs of deceit, violence, and oppression. Books don’t have to offer that hope explicitly, but we know that there IS hope available and the best stories offer hope, a way out of the despair. The hope in The Kite Runner is weak, at best.

Why is The Kite Runner Assigned in Schools?

Hosseini is a stunningly gifted writer. His prose is beautiful. A Thousand Splendid Suns, his second novel, is even more beautifully written—at a prose level—than The Kite Runner. Hosseini is an Afghan by birth; he represents a modern immigrant experience and a Muslim voice, both of which are not prominent in the American literary canon.

But even though he is a gifted writer, and even though he is from a part of the world we would do well to introduce to our students, I would not require a high school student to read Hosseini’s books. Beautiful prose about ugly trauma does not guarantee a worthwhile read.

Can some students “handle” this book? Perhaps. Do traumatic things happen? Absolutely. Is war a horrible experience for all involved? Definitely.

But the trauma in this book might eclipse some of its purported benefits.

The Kite Runner is ultimately about guilt, trauma, and their effects on the psyche. It’s about bullying, about standing up for yourself and for your friends, and about true friendship.

Now What?

So, what’s a parent to do when a book like The Kite Runner gets assigned in school?

First, good for you for knowing what’s been assigned in the first place! Parents who take an interest in their child’s education are doing the right thing.

Second, high school students are practicing to be adults. It’s good for them to start reading grown-up titles and grappling with real issues. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to read The Kite Runner, but it’s good to remember in general.

Third, it’s okay to request a substitute. You may have to pick your battles and not request a substitute for every literature text, but this is one worth arguing for. We’ve got 12 substitution ideas for you in our next post.

Recommended Reading from Redeemed Reader

What do YOU think? Is The Kite Runner a book you would require high school students to read?

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Betsy

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

13 Comments

  1. Jamie on August 10, 2020 at 5:29 am

    I read The Kite Runner a few years ago and would not require high school students to read it. I’m glad I read it – as an adult. It was captivating and Hosseini is an excellent writer but it was so deeply disturbing in parts, even though he was not extremely graphic with those scenes. Amir was so unlikable it detracted somewhat of my enjoyment of the book. I wouldn’t want my own kids to read it before 11th or 12th grade, and even then, I would want them to know how dark it is in places to make an informed decision.

    • Our Team Betsy on August 10, 2020 at 10:04 am

      I hadn’t thought of Amir’s character detracting from the book, but I think you’re right. He’s so horrible in every sense. He does illustrate, though, how bullies as children often grow up to be bullies as adults–and they can do even more damage as adults!

  2. Renee Mathis on August 10, 2020 at 6:06 am

    Hi Betsy – I absolutely would NOT require this of a high-school student, for all the reasons you have so clearly described. I’m looking forward to the list of recommended substitutes. Thank you for addressing this!
    Blessings,
    Renee

    • Our Team Betsy on August 10, 2020 at 10:01 am

      You’re most welcome, Renee!

  3. Karen on August 10, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Thank you! The Kite Runner is in the Beautiful Feet World & American History guide, notated that parental guidance was needed. I had never read the book, so I called and they explained basically what you did here. They didn’t have too many substitutions to give me, so I’m looking forward to your next post. Thanks again!

    • Our Team Betsy on August 10, 2020 at 10:02 am

      You’re most welcome!

  4. Kelli on August 10, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Wow, thank you! This site is invaluable to me. Even though we homeschool, I’m constantly looking at what my kids choose to read in their spare time.
    My best friend’s daughter had to read The Handmaid’s Tale for her college lit class. Ugh.

    • Our Team Betsy on August 10, 2020 at 10:01 am

      Glad we are helpful to you!

  5. Diane King on August 11, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    Having been a children’s librarian with a degree in Library Science, I have found myself on the other side & had to approach my child’s teacher about substituting a book for one on the list I believed was inappropriate. I would have other suggestions if the teacher needed them but I would definitely not want my young teen to read The Kite Runner. Those are areas I would want to address with my child myself.
    How about Boys in the Boat? That is a story that pulls you right into the sad life of Joe Rantz & then continues to pull you right into that boat to help Joe succeed! Joe becomes an undisputable, unsuspecting hero & we need that today as we spark these kids moral imaginations & give them captivating heroes worthy of emulation!

    • Our Team Betsy on August 11, 2020 at 6:55 pm

      We’re big fans of Boys in the Boat! However, while it is a great story, it doesn’t work as well as substitute for The Kite Runner because it doesn’t fit the non-white/non-Western perspective we find in The Kite Runner. Our substitutions list (linked above) tried to take that into account. But teens should definitely read The Boys in the Boat for all the reasons you mention!

  6. Sharon Barrow Wilfong on August 11, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Thank you for this review. I have had The Kite Runner on my shelf for years now, but have been deterred by the violence. I’ve read other books about Palestine and Syria that are harrowing, but not graphic in their violence.

  7. Katie Hall on August 11, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Once again, Betsy, you have saved me time by spoon-feeding me details about a book. Thanks for making my job easier!

    • Our Team Betsy on August 12, 2020 at 7:00 am

      Aww, you’re so welcome, Katie!

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