It’s Farah’s twelfth birthday and all she really wants to do is hang out with her friends Essie and Alex. Since moving from one part of New York City to another, she’s missed her friends and felt out of place in her hijab at her new school. But Farah’s little brother Ahmad, who has ADHD and is used to dominating her attention, won’t leave her alone.
When Farah and her friends open a strange gift from her Aunt Zohra, they don’t notice Ahmad standing in the doorway. The gift is an ornate wooden box labeled “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.” Not until they read the instructions for the game and Ahmad shouts out “I am ready for the gauntlet!” do they realize what has happened. Ahmad disappears into the game, and Farah is determined to enter the game and bring her brother back.
Now, the three friends not only have to find Ahmad, they also have to race against the clock to complete all the challenges in time, or they could be stuck in the game forever.
This Jumanji-like middle grade novel for readers 8–12 is a romp of a good time, full of action and adventure. It is not for the faint of heart—Farah and her friends fall into pits of bones in a graveyard, brave sand storms, and struggle against an ocean of blood. They meet friends along the way, but are also challenged and forced to face their fears.
This book is a breath of fresh air in so many ways—it is a well-executed middle-grade story about a hijabi character. We get enough backstory about Farah and her family to believe that she is a real person, not just dropped into the story to act as protagonist. Her home life provides just enough of a peek into Bangladeshi culture to make her family realistic and interesting. The other characters are delightfully three-dimensional, including Alex, Essie, and Henrietta the giant lizard. The backstory reveal at the end of the book brings the whole story together. The pacing is suspenseful and had me rushing through to the end of the story. Obvious happy ending side, I was intrigued to see how it would come about. Riazi is a wonderful new talent, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
The Gauntlet is published by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2017) and you can get a copy here.