Thunder Over Kandahar

Author: Sharon E. McKay
Photographer: Rafal Gerszak
Publisher: Annick Press (July 1, 2010)
ISBN: 9781554512676

Two girls from very different upbringings forge a remarkable friendship amidst the backdrop of war. Yasmine and Tamanna’s friendship is tested repeatedly. The bonds formed from learning from each other, genuine love for one another, loyalty to each other and the will to survive would prove unbreakable as the teenagers confront unimaginable peril.

Audio book Excerpt:


Announcement: Thunder Over Kandahar, is short-listed for Saskatchewan's Willow Award, 2011.


2011 USBBY ( U.S. branch of IBBY) Outstanding International Honor Book

Rafal Gerszak is an award-winning Canadian war documentarian and photographer who was embedded with an American unit in Afghanistan for a year. Rafal and I are working on Thunder Over Kandahar together.

Note, Rafal’s website has some graphic photographs. Recommended for children over twelve.



The novel packed with fast-paced action with characters on the run was a delight in its own ...the fiction portrays the true essence of lives of Afghani women and children.

—Barsha Rajeshwori Thapa - Republica

This is a fabulous novel, filled with action, adventure, and the warmth of friendship. 21/3/11

... skillfully crafted and such a heart-pounding, jaw-dropping narrative it was hard not to believe that the world of Yasmine and Tamanna is real.... Very well researched, this book is a must-read for anyone truly wanting to understand the conflicts in Afghanistan or even the enduring and proud spirit of the Afghani people. This would be a perfect illustration of current events for a social science course or any young person really interested in finding out what life is like for many Afghani women. I would say that it is so full of action and drama that this would be an engaging read for many young people of either gender.

Word of Mouse Book Reviews

“McKay…portrays the unsettled nature of life in a war-torn country and especially the plight of the women who have virtually no decision-making powers. Highly recommended.”

—Resource Links, December 2010

"…a powerful read…McKay is able to bring this far-away, well-researched story right into your bedroom (or wherever you like to read.)

—What If? Canada's Creative Teen Magazine, Winter 2010

This story is so vivid you could believe that Yasmine is real. The heart-stopping action is also tragically real for many children throughout Afghanistan.

—Canadian Teacher Magazine, May/June 2011

"…fast-paced action and appealing characters…bring young readers face to face with the realities of modern Afghanistan, both the dark and the light."

—Quill & Quire, December 2010

"…informative and inspiring…well-constructed and believable…this novel should become essential classroom reading for students in Grades 7 and 8."

—Canadian Childrens Book News, Fall 2010

"…provides a gripping, empathetic look at one of the most dangerous and
misogynistic societies in existence today through the believable, inspiring characters
of Yasmine and her friend Tamanna. Highly recommended."

—CM Magazine, December 3, 2010

The literature of war has long included works that resonate with teenagers, from Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage to Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. Adding to such a beloved canon would be a tough feat, but setting lofty considerations aside, Sharon E. McKay's latest novel is an entry that offers healthy optimism about friendship's capacity for sacrifice. McKay, the first novelist for young adults to be designated as a Canadian War Artist, has drawn from her travel in Afghanistan to create Thunder Over Kandahar—a bracing, if at times providential, account of crossing borders, surviving bombing, and embracing adoption, among other topics.

At first, Yasmine and Tamanna could not seem more different. One girl was raised in England as the only child of Radcliffe- and Oxford-educated parents, thus accustomed to certain privileges and freedoms; the other, whose brother was coerced into joining the Taliban, is bound by filial expectations, including the prospect of early marriage. When violence forces the two girls to escape their homes on foot, they reveal a courage born of a friendship that is more akin to sisterhood.

Throughout their journey, potential dangers arise in the form of land mines and the threat of discovery. McKay avoids dwelling on the fact that young travelers could experience sexual violence, but she does acknowledge the reality of living in tumultuous times. She effectively portrays the unsettled—and unsettling—terrain in which a mere word or gesture could invite trouble, and where despair once led a character to contemplate suicide by immolation.

For all its references to burqas, Taliban laws, and female roles, however, and for all the portraits of Kabul by photographer Rafal Gerszak, the novel is perhaps best understood not as a fictional slice of contemporary conflict, but as a more enduring example of extreme circumstances inspiring selflessness. The characters demonstrate little hesitation in giving up the chance to be rescued for another's benefit, a feature that makes for thought-provoking discussion. Despite the rapid resolution, the jump to the chapter "One Year Later," and the postscript, which some may regard as an overly sweeping reassurance of the characters' survival, Yasmine's outlook on the future of her country is refreshing. The same force that drew her parents to their line of work continues with her. McKay generously implies that hope is not the same as ideology; it is a far more elemental feeling, likened to a "call back to the land."

—Karen Rigby
Foreword Reviews