“Code of Honor” by Alan Gratz is a middle grade book that will keep readers both young and old on the edge of their seats until almost the very last page. The story is about a typical American family. The two brothers in the family are exceptionally close in spite of several years age difference. The mom is a Muslim from Iraq and the dad was born in America (with a name like “Smith,” he’s as American as they come).
Kamran is the protagonist. His older brother, Darius, went to West Point and is now a US Army Ranger, fighting in Afghanistan. When the news breaks that Darius masterminded an attack on the US Embassy in Turkey, the family is shocked. Kamran idolized his older brother and was in the process of finalizing his application to also attend West Point. His congresswoman had recommended him, but after his brother is branded a terrorist, that recommendation is withdrawn. When Kamran sees the tapes of Darius claiming responsibility for the attacks (there are more attacks), Kamran notices that Darius uses the names of characters that they made up when they played together as children. He is convinced that it’s a message to him that Darius is not really a terrorist, but has been captured and forced to participate in the attacks and record the videos.
Kamran and his parents are taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and kept in isolation while they are questioned. Kamran vacillates between defending his brother and condemning him. Kamran tells his interrogators about the videos and the made-up names that Darius uses. Then he notices that Darius is using another code from their childhood — knocking on the wall to communicate at night.
By using the secret codes, Kamran manages to help discover several of the terrorist plots to kill Americans. But is Darius playing a double game by making Kamran believe what he wants, or is he really trying to help foil his captors? Kamran can’t be 100% sure. When he escapes from his place of isolation, he manages to follow the clues and discover the truth.
There is nonstop action in this story, but Gratz also manages to make Kamran a real character. He gives readers insight into what it feels like to be Muslim in America — not so good much of the time. Kamran is also a character with a strong belief in the “code of honor” that he and his brother created. Gratz pulls no punches when describing soldiers with PTSD, and there is also some violence.
All in all, this is a book that will appeal to a wide variety of audiences. It’s about honor, believing in your gut instincts, doing the right thing, and responsibility. This would be a great read aloud, and it would also appeal to reluctant readers.
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