What The Kite Runner Can Teach

My friend Lynne asked at our last book club meeting, “Should I let my daughter read The Kite Runner?” 
Lynne’s daughter is 15, intelligent, and well read.
But I remembered one especially brutal scene in The Kite Runner.  Everything else in the book points to it or leads from it, so it’s not something one could skip to avoid being disturbed.

I told Lynne no.

Then I saw The Kite Runner on the banned book list on ALA’s website, and I decided to look at it again.  As I flipped through the opening pages, I remembered why I enjoyed it so much.

Why It’s Great

In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini  tells the story of a man haunted by his childhood.  The opening lines read:

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975… That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it.  Because the past claws its way out.

Hosseini vividly describes the tumultuous world of Afghanistan in the late 20th century.  He effectively brings us into a setting so different from America by describing it through the voice of a boy.   Amir experiences emotions we can identify with.  He loves and fears his father, and pines for his approval.  He struggles with jealousy, loyalty, and worst of all, bullies.  One in particular, who worships Hitler, will irrevocably change Amir’s life. 
Throughout all of this, Hosseini weaves the consistent theme of the power of words, the relevance of stories.  His writing is easy to read, yet potent, making it a valuable book.
Hosseini dedicated his book to the children of Afghanistan

Why It’s Controversial

The ALA site reports challenges to The Kite Runner for language and violence.  And yes, it has legitimate examples of both.  By page seven, a main character is assaulted with profanity and obscene gestures.  But, importantly, Hosseini shows how the insults hurt the character; we empathize with his pain.  
The critical scene of the book comes a few chapters later.  Hosseini masterfully describes an act of brutality that one human being imposes on another.  We stand in a cold alley with Amir and watch.  Fear runs through our veins too.
There’s other violence: murders, suicides, war.  But those things happen in Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, and we shouldn’t hide from them.  But do children need to know?  I want to protect my kids as long as possible from learning that bad guys really do exist.  That evil does hold a place in the world.
But by the time kids are in high school, they are learning about the atrocities of World War II.  Most know life isn’t a fairy tale.  They could benefit from learning about the conflicts of the Middle East.

Does it have a place in the classroom or school library?

Honestly, until a few weeks ago, I thought The Kite Runnerwas strictly an adult book.  But I can see potential for learning.  A high school teacher could compliment this book with units on Afghanistan, the Middle East, or Islam.  Reading The Kite Runner could help high school students make sense of the headlines and video clips they see on the news.  It could inspire appreciation for the stability and security we enjoy as Americans.  Most of all, students could learn from Amir’s faults and vow not to repeat his mistakes.
Amir’s father says: “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
A worthy sentiment to ponder in any country, at any time, don’t you agree?  Leave your comments below.

So Lynne, I’d let her read it.  But warn her: it can be brutal.  And of course, talk about the book with her.

Note:  Khaled Hosseini has released The Kite Runner as a graphic novel , a format that might be more palatable to reluctant readers.

For more reviews of banned books and giveaways, see Book Journey.

Book Week Giveaway

This week, in honor of the books I love, I am offering a giveaway of one of the following.  All of them have faced challenges or bans in the past few decades, as reported by the ALA website.  All have also been reads I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, as a child and an adult:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Giver
  • The Outsiders
  • The Kite Runner
  • Bridge to Terebithia
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

How to win?

  • The winner will be picked at random from comments on this post and my vocabulary post on expurgated.   
  • Comments must be made by Oct 8.  The winner will be announced Oct 9 in my vocab post.
  • The giveaway is open to anywhere that Amazon ships.

Julia Tomiak

I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.


  1. I am 16 years old and we read the kite runner in grade 11 English class. I do not think it should be banned!! Yes the book is graphic and really depressing but I think it is an amazing novel! In English class we are writing essays on why or why not the book should be banned from schools. I’m pretty sure most of the class including myself are arguing it should not be banned. I don’t know if I ever would have read this book on my own time so I am so glad that I got the opportunity to do so in class.

    1. Can you write a few page essay on why The Kite Runner should not be banned….reward will be offered 🙂

  2. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to comment and for putting up your opinions. I am a museum educator with a background in Islamic Art who works yearly on the ground in the Middle East to develop sustainable initiatives around cultural heritage. I didn’t read The Kite Runner until I was 25, and it still had a chilling effect on me – but that effect tells me that the book served an important function. It crawled under my skin, and provided a visceral experience that I will never forget (and one that I think too few people pull from reading books like this one): this is a daily lived reality for many people in the world, and only by facing it and opposing it can we change it. To change it we must first understand it.

    I absolutely understand the potential problems with having high school children read it, but we also have to think of other, extraordinarily disturbing books on most high school reading lists: The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, works by EA Poe, A Separate Peace, Diary of a Young Girl, Night, and The Lord of the Flies. All of these wrestle with concepts that we may not want to expose our children to, but they are all accepted, read, and analyzed yearly. Why are works about the current state of the Middle East so different? Why shy away from the horrors of rape and stoning in a novel, when the average teen will see so much worse in a video game or horror film (or, increasingly, on college campuses)? Hosseini’s work is part of the lived history of this and the previous generation, and shying away from that will do nothing but condemn us to repeat the past. Empower your children with knowledge about the rest of the world, talk them through it, but don’t stop them from reading something difficult and heartbreaking because as a parent you’re scared of the questions it might raise. Embrace it – your children are stronger than you know, and they deserve the chance to live through Amir’s experience.

    1. Ayla, thank you for taking the time to add your thoughtful comments to this discussion. You make wonderful points here, especially the one about us being condemned to repeat the past if we don’t face our history. (Or, as you point out, what still goes on in the world today.) Good luck to you in your work; it sounds challenging and interesting.

  3. What i’ll say is this, as a 16 year old currently reading the book, i am finding it very hard to get over this scene. Not because i am enthralled, but its almost emotionally affected me and i am feeling quite out of it (by it i mean everything). Now you may say that it gives westerners an insight into afghanistan and surrounding areas at the height of their dismay, but do you really believe that a child, even a more mature one like myself will get over this scene with that much ease? And some might, but i can assure you that a few, like myself, will not..

    1. Ash, Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your concerns. You’re right – it is a very disturbing scene, one that haunts. Your comment reinforces the serious nature of the book, and it will hopefully encourage readers to think carefully before they read it. I hope you will finish the book and find something redeeming in it – after all, it is about redemption. Thank you.

      1. While I think the book has important messages, I disagree completely with having 15 and 16 year olds read this. Perhaps in college but this book is far too graphic and disturbing. I’ve read all the posts and they are mostly from people who haven’t read the book. It’s easy to intellectualize it as an adult but I believe it’s not appropriate and don’t want my teens to read it. When they are older yes, now, absolutely not. I found this site because they assigned it for my kids class and wanted to see what others say about its appropriateness. I am in the minority, I admit. But what I find equally disturbing is how so many say they are immune to the violence and sex because “it’s life” and “not any different that what I see in….” Really? That’s so sad.

        1. Peggy, Thanks for taking the time to share your concerns. Others have commented that they think the book is too graphic, including a young man who said he was having a hard time getting over it. A good book discussion includes conflicting views, and I’m glad to have multiple perspectives represented here. Good for you to do research and find out exactly what your kids are getting into. Will the school let you/ your children choose an alternative to The Kite Runner? I still think the benefits of this book outweigh the disturbing scene, but I agree that we cannot let ourselves become desensitized to violence and sexual content; we must be conscientious about the media we consume.

    2. I’m a 15 year old and I read the book for my school’s banned book project. I completely agree that the book involves very graphic scenes that could effect the reader, but I loved the book.
      This may get some parents mad, and I mean no offense but… I don’t think it should be choice of the parent to decide whether a child should read a book or not (and when I say child I mean high schooler). I understand that many parents want to protect their child, but there are somethings in life that they will learn about sooner or later. I propose that instead of the parent choosing, I think the child should decide whether or not they would like to read the book. I know that students are mature enough and know their own comfort zones

      1. Thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion. You make a good point that by high school, students should have choice in the books they read. I also think it’s good for parents to know what their kids are reading, read the books they are concerned about, and talk with their kids about any controversial content. I’ve been a teen, and now I’m a parent, and more than anything else I want my kids to feel like they can talk to me about stuff. Sometimes books are the best way to start difficult conversations.

  4. I loved this book, really loved it. I highlighted beautiful passages and had to read his next book, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Such good writing, and yes, such hard issues. But I never felt those terrible things were there just to shock or get numbers – it all had a purpose and became something beautiful and hopeful in the end. Very interested to see it as a graphic novel! Hmmm….I’ll have to check that out!

    1. Exactly- the violence is critical to the story, not just for sensationalism. It forces the reader to think about prejudice, injustice, and humanity. I’ll have to read A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  5. Great review, Julia. Good advice for your friend. I agree with you about using this book in high schools. Important info and our older kids need to know what’s going on in the world!

  6. I wasn’t aware The Kite Runner was available in Graphic novel form but I am sure it would make it more accessible to younger readers.
    Thanks for sharing your Banned Book review

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

  7. My parents let me read any and every book and I am so grateful for that. I think I am such an avid reader today because they never told me I couldn’t read a specific book. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I have children, but I just hope I can instill the same love of reading.

  8. Firstly, thank you so much for a fantastic giveaway and an interesting post. I may not have read ‘the kite runner’ (as i studied other fictional works for English studies), but i would say that violence is everywhere and sadly will always be very much a part of life. The realism within a book and to make the messages conveyed to the reader more poignant and direct, comes from the author ‘showing it how it is’. I don’t always think that it is a good thing to cover things up, as literature can open your eyes to the world around you.

    Email: lfountain1(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk

  9. This book made the Afghani people more REAL to me! They didn’t want the Taliban just as much as we didn’t want to interact with terrorists, and they were victims in this scenario. The book was amazing. It is a must-read, with maybe a must-discuss discussion afterwards.

  10. I would let me 15 yr old read whatever he/she wanted because reading is a good thing and reading important books like THE KITE RUNNER is even better. I might want to ask my kid if they wanted to talk with me about any parts, warn them that there are some brutal harrowing parts, maybe ask them are they sure they want to read this, have a conversation about it. But ultimately my answer would be yes.

  11. I read this a few years ago for a college course. I was enthralled and appalled. It is one of the most powerful books I’ve read recently.

    I never denied my children to read anything that caught their interest. I read adult books at 10 and my children and grand children have followed suit. I believe that kids need to know what the real world is like before they step out into it. I’d much rather they were exposed through literature while safely at home than to be naive and too trusting as teenagers. That’s the real danger.

  12. I never would have thought of this one for a student but as I read this I did think that it would make a good choice for some high school students. As terrible as the scene you mentioned is, it was the later part of the book that I found so tense I could hardly read and I think it’s not such a bad thing for young people to understand the world and its dangers.

    1. You’re right, Lisa, the book does get very intense towards the end. It was scary to realize how quickly Amir’s life changed when he returned to Afghanistan – and that such conditions exist in the modern world.

  13. I own this book as well as A Thousand Splendid Suns. I haven’t read either but I did see the movie, The Kite Runner and LOVED it. I would imagine the book is better.

    As far as letting my daughter read it, yes, if she wants and if I feel she’s emotionally mature enough. I would let her make her own choices but would strongly encourage discussion.


  14. Censorship. Thank you for tackling the topic during Banned Books Week. My girls are close to 30 now. I never banned a book at my house. The only media controls I put in place was a limit on the amount of time they could watch TV which meant they had to choose their programming wisely. The habit of discussing what books we were reading was instilled pretty darn early. As adults, they beat me in average books read a week. I think they both weigh in at about 5/weekly.

    1. I agree- much better to read and discuss a book than spend time in front of a TV! Thanks for this insight, Lara. Glad your girls are such avid readers- I wish I had time to read as much as my kids do!

  15. I honestly cannot remember a single thing about this book. But this review was excellent. I love the way you incorporated a personal tone to an already wonderful review. Thanks!

  16. The Kite Runner is such an amazing book. It has been a few years since I read it, but it is the kind of book that never completely leaves you. There were parts of the novel that were disturbing, but they were for a reason. I also like a lot of the books that you have listed are among my favorites

  17. I loved “The Kite Runner” and consider it to be one of the most beautiful and powerful books I’ve ever read. It gives us insight into a culture completely alien to most of us, and allows us to appreciate the core universality, in spite of the differences. I would encourage teenagers to read it.

    I popped over here from Dianne’s blog. Nice to meetcha. Count me in as your newest groupie.

  18. I was thinking just what you said, I’d let her read it but go in knowing that it needs to be discussed. It’s a very powerful book!

    I had no idea about the graphic novel, I bet that is interesting!

  19. Thanks for all the great info on this book. I will borrow this book from my friend this very wekk. Thanks for the opportunity to win one of the amazing books from your list!

    connie’s corner shelf
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  20. I loved (and cried over) A Thousand Splendid Suns. I haven’t read this one yet but I’ve been wanting to read The Kite Runner for ages. =)

    ~ following!

  21. I loved the Kite Runner and although it was disturbing it served a purpose, as you said. It felt like a necessary part of the story. I wouldn’t mind my children reading it when they were mature enough to process it. I too think it could be a valuable learning tool for students if discussed.

    1. Yes- I wouldn’t want my 7th grader reading it right now. And as with many difficult topics, discussion is much better than avoidance. Thanks for stopping by!

Comments are closed.