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Book Review

Thunder over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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.

Christian Beliefs

Yasmine and Tamanna are told that Christians were the first ones to have women hide themselves behind veils and clothing.

Other Belief Systems

The main characters and their families are of the Muslim faith, so Yasmine and Tamanna often pray to Allah for help and protection. They hear the muezzin call the faithful to prayer in the mornings as they wake up. They perform the ritual washing, called wudu, to praise Allah and maintain his favor. Tamanna’s mother wears a holy charm around her neck that she strokes for good luck.

Baba is considered an infidel by many in the university because he teaches that not only is Abraham a prophet in the Muslim faith, but he’s also honored in the Christian and Jewish faiths as well. He hopes that one day, the three faiths might find unity and peace through this common belief. Because Baba has made a pilgrimage to Mecca, he hopes to be accepted as a faithful Muslim in his childhood home near Kandahar.

The Taliban are radical Muslims. During their reign in Afghanistan, windows in homes are blacked out or covered so that no one can see any women inside. Women can't be educated, even though their prophet Muhammad called for all Muslims to seek knowledge.

Women and girls not chaperoned by male family members aren't supposed to be in a room with males they are not related to. They must not walk outside unless accompanied by a male relative. Muslims do not eat pork. They claim that Western women are allowed to walk naked. A girl is punished for wearing white sandals because she is walking on a “holy color.”

White is the color of peace. Westerners are considered dirty because they eat and wash with the same hand. Kabeer believes he will restore honor to his family by being a suicide bomber.

Authority Roles

Yasmine’s parents are devout Muslims who believe in finding what they have in common with other cultures, rather than letting differences keep them apart. They love and treasure Yasmine and treat Tamanna like another daughter, to the point that they pretend Tamanna is Yasmine so they can get her out of Afghanistan and to safety.


The word holy is used as an exclamation. Although no actual profanity is used, women are routinely belittled by men, even their own relatives. They are called “nothing” and said to have “no brain.”

Men beat Yasmine’s mother because they think her clothes are too Western and because she is walking in the streets without a male escort. The men beat her so badly they break her leg. Yasmine is hurled into the bushes when she tries to stop them. No doctor will set her mother’s injury because the Taliban forbids them to touch women. She will permanently walk with a limp.

Taliban soldiers beat a schoolteacher for educating boys and girls together. They also hurt Yasmine because she is not wearing a burkha. Her parents are shot in the street. Both survive their wounds but her father never regains the use of his arm.

Yasmine sees that Kabeer’s feet have been burned in the past, a sign that he has been tortured to become a Taliban soldier. Tamanna is hurt when she falls down a mountain path. Kabeer wears a bomb and pretends that Yasmine is his sister so that he can get close to the U.N. convoy. He detonates the bomb, severely wounding Yasmine and several soldiers. One experiences temporary blindness and deafness.

Tamanna’s uncle is a violent man, often slapping or hitting Tamanna and her mother. Tamanna describes a time when she tried to stop him from hitting and kicking her mother. She threw herself over her mother’s body, and he kicked Tamanna so hard, he broke her hip. She never received medical treatment so it did not heal properly.

After her arranged marriage falls through, Tamanna's uncle wants to kill her. When he cannot find her, he beats her mother. Although the beating is not described, Yasmine finds the woman slumped in the doorway. Her face is bloody and bloated. Her hands have been battered.


Yasmine tells Tamanna how she witnessed couples who are not married kissing in Britain.

Although not described in detail, Yasmine and Tamanna are told how even boys are not safe in Afghanistan. Young boys are taken by warlords and dressed like women. They dance for the men and are used sexually like women. Kabeer hints that he was used in this way in the past. Once he became too old to please the warlord, he was given to the Taliban.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Smoking: Tamanna’s uncle smokes chars, a kind of cigarette that is mixed with other drugs. A Taliban soldier chews and spits tobacco.

Alcohol: Tamanna’s uncle is said to visit a house where liquor is served.

Illegal drugs: Tamanna’s uncle goes into debt by smoking opium. Yasmine and Tamanna come across a small village in the mountains where everyone uses opium as a way to survive. The mothers even blow opium smoke into their children’s faces to keep them from feeling the effects of hunger and pain.

Gambling: Tamanna’s uncle gambles.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 and up


Sharon E. McKay






Record Label



First published in the USA by Annick Press, Ltd.; Published in 2011 by Om Books International


On Video

Year Published



USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List, 2011; Amelia Bloomer Project List, ALA 2011; and many others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.