The Night Diary

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Night Diary Book Poster Image
India-Pakistan religious conflict drives moving family tale.

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Kids say

age 10+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Backstory involving partition of India into India and Pakistan, with members of "wrong" religion having to move to the other country, will be new to many kids and adults. Based on experiences of the author's family, the story makes the human impact of the political maneuvers especially vivid, harsh. Glossary and author's afterword are useful for the Indian terms and cultural references.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of tolerating differences, religious and otherwise; also family, endurance -- and a love of cooking. Striking scenes involve characters showing kindness when the recipient doesn't expect (or, possibly, deserve) it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Nisha is relatable and courageous as she deals with her former life falling apart. She's especially close to her twin brother, Amil, and the family's Muslim cook, Kazi, who's devoted to them but has to stay behind when they leave. Adult characters including Nisha's father and grandmother show courage and care for their loved ones even when they're overwhelmed, and characters met along the way show kindness to others, regardless of what religion they practice.

Violence

Characters in danger for most of the story, sometimes have to leave a place because they're putting others in danger. Deadly religious warfare is what drives the family from their once-happy home as refugees. In one scene, a crazed stranger holds a knife to a tween character's throat, planning to kill her in revenge for his own family. Onetime friends and neighbors start beating and killing each other over religious differences, and bullies start the process young. Nisha and Amil's mother died giving birth to them, so their birthday is always sad as well as happy.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Night Diary is the story of a Hindu family whose home, once in India, becomes part of Muslim Pakistan when British colonial rule ends and religious violence erupts between once-peaceful neighbors. It's loosely based on the experiences of author Veera Hiranandani's family members in the 1940s. As 12-year-old narrator Nisha writes letters to her deceased mother in her diary, she describes the family's flight, hardships, dangers -- including murderous brawls and crazed knife-wielding men trying to kill children. This chapter of recent history will be a revelation to many Western readers. Its messages of love, family, friendship, kindness, and tolerance are still compelling and timely today.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old July 31, 2018

Amazing read!!!

The night diary is one of the best books I’ve ever read! The book is heartfelt and beautifully written. The story is about a girl named Nisha, facing a dramatic... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's the summer of 1947, and 12-year-old Nisha writes letters each evening to her long-dead mom in THE NIGHT DIARY. There's a lot to write: India, where she lives with her father (a doctor), her twin brother, and her grandmother, is about to become independent. But in the process, the place she's lived all her life is now part of Pakistan, where the Muslim majority doesn't want Hindu families like hers around. On the other side of the border, Muslims are faring just as badly at the hands of Hindus, and all along the way both groups, once peaceful neighbors, are feuding and trying to kill each other. As the family flees to safety, Nisha keeps thinking that the fact that her late mom was Muslim ought to make them friends to everybody, but instead it seems just as likely to get them killed.

Is it any good?

Twelve-year-old Nisha's journal of political turmoil and violence in 1940s India sheds light on a turbulent era. It also delivers a strong message of love, family, and kindness when things are at their worst. And despite the decades that have passed, The Night Diary's story, characters, and issues remain timely and compelling today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how religion limits where people get to live and work in The Night Diary. Why do you think people might like to live this way? What might not work out so well?

  • Have you read other books about India, either in the past or today? How does The Night Diary compare?

  • In the story, Nisha and Amil's parents braved a lot of hostility when they fell in love and got married, because they were from different religions. Do you know any kids whose parents belong to different faiths? Is it a big deal or no problem?

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