Set in contemporary Mali, this novel follows thirteen-year-old twins Ayisha and Ahmed on their quest to protect their country’s national treasures from a conniving pair of American tourists. When Ahmed first meets Griff and Trudy, he senses that something is amiss: they are a little too interested in having Ahmed tour them around museums and libraries in Timbuktu where they might see ancient manuscripts; in fact they’re trying to buy some, despite the fact that it’s a crime to remove such historical treasures from the country. Ahmed reports his encounter back to sister Ayisha, and soon the pair are off on a mission not only to stop the Americans from getting their hands on any manuscripts but to ensure they are caught in the act of purchasing, so as to ensure their punishment as a deterrent to other speculators.
The story gains momentum slowly, and it may be awhile before the readers understand the significance of the manuscripts, but once the it gets rolling, it is a wild and wonderful adventure through the mysterious city of Timbuktu, the dangerous expanse of Sahara Desert, and the bustling energy of a distant nomadic encampment. Ahmed and Ayisha are a formidable pair, and readers will enjoy problem-solving along with the sibs as they dig themselves deeper and deeper into the investigation, running into boundless danger at every turn. Kessler (author of Our Secret, Siri Aang) has created a world rich in cultural detail, and there is abundant cross-genre appeal; the novel is at once an adventure, a mystery, a family story, an exploration of a distant culture, a study in gender in the Muslim society, and an examination of the elemental questions of right and wrong. An author’s note and several glossaries are included.
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