Born in England, 14-year-old Yasmine thinks of herself as British. But now that her parents have returned to Afghanistan, their homeland, she must learn the restrictive customs of the culture if she is going to be safe. Her Baba, father, came back to teach at a university after the fall of the Taliban. He wants to teach his fellow Afghanis about philosophy and literature, but his desire for open discussion is frowned upon. Yasmine’s mother, also a learned woman, cannot work. She tries to help Yasmine adjust to her new home.
One day, while out for a walk, Taliban militants beat Yasmine’s mother. Although she and Yasmine wore their hijab, or head coverings, they were not wearing burkhas, full body coverings that the Taliban demand women wear. Her mother’s leg is broken, but no male doctor will set it, as they are scared to touch a woman.
A friend warns Baba that he and his wife are no longer safe in the city because of his liberal teachings. Yasmine hopes they will return to London when her mother is well enough to travel. Instead, Baba moves them to Kandahar province, where Yasmine’s grandfather still has a house. Soon after moving to the new home, Yasmine meets a young girl her age named Tamanna.
Tamanna and her mother live with Tamanna's uncle, a violent man, addicted to drugs. Baba hires Tamanna to work at the house, but her real job is to be a companion to Yasmine. Tamanna is thrilled when Baba teaches her arithmetic and history along with Yasmine.
Tamanna loves to learn, but begins to worry that the family's housekeeper may spread gossip in the town about her. Already, many think Baba is tainted by the West. When the housekeeper dies, Baba hires a new woman to work in the evening, so the people in the town think Tamanna is working during the day.
Both girls are excited when a new school opens, run by the United Nations. Their excitement turns to terror when three SUVs pull up and Taliban fighters order the children out of the school. Yasmine tries to escape out a window because she does not have a burkha.
Tamanna shakes in fear as their teacher is thrown to the ground after being beaten. Her fear turns to courage when a young Talib throws Yasmine down next to the teacher. The soldiers’ leader threatens to shoot Yasmine, but Tamanna pulls the burkha from her face and confronts one of the young Talib. He is her twin brother, Kabeer, who was stolen from the family several years ago.
Because of their relationship, the teacher and Yasmine are allowed to live. Although despairing that Yasmine is hurt, Tamanna runs home to tell her mother that Kabeer is still alive. Her mother has her own news for Tamanna. Her grandfather has ordered her sold in marriage in order to pay her uncle’s debts. She will be married in less than 10 days.
It takes Yasmine a week to recover from the beating she received. Her parents realize that they must leave Afghanistan to keep their daughter safe. Unfortunately, her mother falls ill before they can escape. While they are on their way to the clinic, Yasmine’s parents are accused of being spies and cling to life after being shot.
U.N. medics take them to their camp, and her parents are to be taken to Kandahar City by helicopter. There they'll be operated on. As Yasmine has not been wounded, they cannot take her in the helicopter. A soldier takes her home to search for her family’s passports and papers. Yasmine takes the opportunity to find Tamanna first to tell her that her parents are not dead.
Tamanna accompanies Yasmine back to her house where they search for the papers. They find the passports, along with a large stash of British pounds and American dollars. Yasmine puts all of it, and her father’s notebooks, into a sack. They bid a tearful farewell, and Yasmine returns to the U.N. Camp. The soldiers are amazed to learn that she is a British citizen.
As her parents have already been evacuated, they arrange for a car to take her to the city. While the soldiers are distracted, Yasmine steals a bottle of medicine to give to Tamanna who has been suffering from diarrhea for weeks. She makes her driver stop near Tamanna’s house so she can deliver the medicine.
Yasmine is dismayed to find Tamanna’s mother beaten to a pulp. Tamanna’s future husband saw her limping in the village. The limp had been caused from her uncle’s beating, but the man accuses her of having a birth defect. He refuses to marry Tamanna.
Tamanna flees before her uncle can kill her for dishonoring their family, but he takes his wrath out on her mother. Yasmine finds Tamanna and convinces her to go to Kandahar City with her. Their driver does not take them to the city. Instead, he casts them out. They know they cannot stay on the road and walk to the city as Tamanna’s uncle will be looking for her. Instead, they cover themselves in their burkhas and walk toward the mountains and, hopefully, freedom.
The way is treacherous because they must walk at night to avoid being seen by the Taliban. Girls can be killed for walking without a male relative. Tamanna’s hip becomes more painful as the days wear on, and her dysentery gives her a fever.
A boy sees them and motions for them to follow him. He guides them to a hut where his grandmother lives. He appears to have Down syndrome and his grandmother, although friendly, cannot speak words. The boy, Zmarak, can translate her sounds. His grandmother nurses Tamanna back to health. After about a week, she is able to travel again, and the girls sadly leave their new friends.
They take shelter one day in an abandoned hut that Tamanna suspects is used by the Taliban. They wake to the sound of a donkey and escape from the back of a hut, but not before Tamanna recognizes the face of one of the Taliban: her brother, Kabeer. She cannot leave Afghanistan without saying goodbye to him. She meets with him on the path down the mountain while Yasmine hides in the distance.
Kabeer shows signs of having been tortured. His feet are scarred with burns. He spouts Taliban rhetoric at Tamanna and tells her she is nothing but a stupid girl. Heartbroken, Tamanna tells Yasmine she will not leave Afghanistan. She does not want to be a part of the Western world; it is too foreign to her.
As Tamanna makes her way to the valley, helicopters stir up dust and debris. She loses her bearings and tumbles down the mountain. Yasmine and Kabeer find her and help carry Tamanna down to the road. Kabeer claims he only said horrible things before because his commander was listening.
Desperate to get help for Tamanna, Yasmine gives her friend the knapsack with all her family’s passports and documents. She also places her gold necklace around Tamanna’s neck. Yasmine then stands in the middle of the road to stop a U.N convoy. Once the soldiers are sure she is not a bomber, she tells them Tamanna’s name is Yasmine. The soldiers have been looking for Yasmine and know to identify her by the necklace she wears.
They take Tamanna with them to the hospital. Just then, Kabeer comes walking toward Yasmine, calling her sister. She remembers the words he spoke to Tamanna, telling her that he would restore honor to their family. She realizes he must be carrying a bomb and tries to warn the soldiers. When the bomb explodes, she is thrown from the soldiers’ view. They assume she has been killed and make a hasty retreat before another attack.
Yasmine is found by French doctors. They are shocked to discover she can speak some of their language. She has several broken bones, a severe sunburn and amnesia. She can remember nothing of her life. Nicolette, a nurse, gives her the name Famia and helps take care of her wounds. At the border into Pakistan, Yasmine must travel apart from the French doctors so as not to raise suspicion. She will travel with an Afghan guide and pretend to be his wife. He will take her several hours away to a safe house where Nicolette and the French doctor will rendezvous with her in a day or two.
Mina and Babrak, a young couple, take care of Yasmine. Mina cares for Yasmine as if she were her little sister, but it is several more days until Nicolette arrives. Yasmine is relieved to see her friend and know she is safe. Nicolette offers to bring Yasmine to France to live with her. Yasmine feels that she must stay behind if she is ever going to learn the truth of who she is. Nicolette promises to have the Red Cross search for any relatives. Yasmine stays with Mina and Babrak. She helps take care of their new baby and also teaches at a local school.
After a year has passed, Babrak brings home a visitor. The Afghani man is old and dressed like a Westerner. Although nervous of the man, Yasmine is not afraid of him. He brings her a package from her friend Nicolette and a children’s book about Babar an elephant.
The book ignites her mind, and Yasmine remembers her real name. The old man is her grandfather. She asks about her parents. They had been heartbroken, thinking she had died, but found some comfort taking care of Tamanna.
A postscript tells the reader that Yasmine returns to England to a joyful reuniting with her parents and Tamanna. After three years, she announces her plan to return to Afghanistan, now armed with her teaching degree. She eventually marries Babrak’s younger brother, also a teacher. Their eldest daughter attends school in England and lives with her Aunt Tamanna. She spends her summer holiday in France with her Aunt Nicolette.