We had a discussion about this novel in one of our English Department meetings, and many of my colleagues felt that it's too disturbing to teach in our 10th grade World Literature courses. No one in our building teaches it--or has ever taught it--because of its content.
I absolutely love the novel, but I do find it to be one of the more haunting and upsetting works I've read. I'm curious to hear from those who have taught it. With what grade/ability level do you read it? What are the students' reactions? Any parent opposition?
I can't express what a powerful novel this is and how well students have received it. I am toying with teaching it alongside A Tale of Two Cities to examine the key themes of resurrection and redemption. I think what this novel does wonderfully is to give us an insight into a radically different world which has now been destroyed. It is also a lament and a crushing inditement against Western intervention in other countries that leave a legacy of chaos, anarchy and repression.
I've taught The Kite Runner for the past five years. I teach it in my AP class (11th graders) and in my junior CP class. I've never had a parent object to it. Every parent comment I've received about the book has been positive--such as parents reading the book and loving it because their children have raved about it. I teach in the very conservative South; so I did wonder when I first began teaching the book if it would be a problem, but it hasn't been so far. I do warn students about Chapter 7, but that usually intrigues them and makes them want to read the book even more.
While The Kite Runner is fictional, it is not gratuitously violent or graphic and is certainly no more disturbing than other works in our cannon such as Night.
I hope that you will try teaching it. It might be better if you taught it to upperclassmen rather than sophomores. I've just found that the parents of my sophomores are much more concerned about their reading material than are my juniors' parents.
When I taught the Pre-AP 11th grade World Lit course, I included this novel on the list of independent readings--I taught the course thematically and focused on how well we know ourselves and one another, self awareness, etc. The students who chose to read this novel were enthralled. I think it is a mistake not to include literature on the curriculum because it has tough situations or themes. Now more than ever, our student population is dealing with the same or very similar horrors in their own lives. They need an outlet, a way to speak out, a mode of expression to learn empathy and compassion as well as coping mechanisms.
I would include this and the sequel on my list of independent readings if not on the syllabus itself.
The Kite Runner is an incredible novel, and I have been using it in 11th grade English, which focuses on world literature, for about four years now. I have only had four students (out of hundreds?) that had parents object and ask to read something else. One parent actually pulled her son from my class because of it! Another parent objected to ALL of the novels our school assigned, so it's not really fair to single out The Kite Runner.
Before we read the novel, I strongly encourage parents to read it ahead of time since the passage in question, what happens in chapter 7, can be quite disturbing. Give both the parents AND the students a heads-up about the content.
The students overwhelmingly love the novel-many can't put it down! I've had many rave reviews from parents as well, and his next novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is usually always checked out from our school library since so many students liked his first novel. Many students thank me for finally teaching a GOOD novel that they liked to read (which hurts me a little, I think:)).
Teach it! You won't regret it.
I must confess I haven't read this novel yet. Every time it comes to the top of my reading pile, I move it to the bottom again. Perhaps I'm subconsciously postponing the disquietude I'm certain I'll feel. (In the movie world, I do the same with Saving Private Ryan--know I need to watch it but just keep putting it off, telling myself I'm not ready.) I do, however, have one anecdote to relate. One of my students was required to read it in college, and he and his family found that requirement upsetting enough to change schools. He read it and he survived, of course, but they were just not happy about having to do it. I'm certain there were other factors, but that's the one I heard--perhaps because I'm an English teacher. Reality is real enough, they said, without having to read it and discuss it at great length and in great detail. Sounds like a lack of balance somehow, to me, but there you go.
I taught the novel while working overseas at an international school in Hong Kong. Some of the students were disturbed by the rape scene, but they moved on from that to look at other parts of the novel. In the end, they were more angered by Amir's cowardice and prejudice in the novel than they were by the scenes of violence. But they liked the novel because they got to read about Afghanistan which was new to them.
In my current school, the book is on our ninth grade reading list--I don't teach ninth grade, but I've heard positive reviews from my colleagues. Our district, however, is relatively liberal, so I'd say you'd have to judge the atmosphere of where you teach when making these decisions. I'm always of a mind that people need to learn about the hard sides of life, and we learn through reading.
I've taught this novel with my 12th grade students, at both the AP and CP levels. Often, they are uncomfortable, disturbed, upset, etc....but they are also moved and deeply touched by the text. They respond to the universal themes of the nature of friendship and honesty, trust and betrayal. I've also found that students generally handle mature matter in a, well, mature manner. I'm always vaguely worried teaching The Bluest Eye as well, but my students always treat the text with the respect it deserves. I've had the same experience with The Kite Runner. Students approach the text from a critical perspective, and although they may have a visceral response to the novel, they're eager to discuss it in analytical terms. In my experience, students tend to rise to the challenge of mature literature when teachers set that standard in the classroom.
I have only taught The Kite Runner once, but it was wildly popular--one of the best received novels I have taught. It is staple reading with 10th graders in many parts of Florida. The kids were interested in the past and present Afghani history, and they handled the more serious parts in a mature manner. I think they appreciated the honest approach taken by the author and his narrator. Two thumbs up!
This is my third year to teach The Kite Runner at an English-medium Lebanese school. The first two years I taught it to 11th graders, and this year I taught it to 10th graders. Out of the almost 200 11th graders I taught, only one student complained. "It was too sad." This year as I have taught it to my 10th graders, I have seen its power once again. Although many of my students were disturbed by the rape scene, overall they have been moved by Amir's change in character and his chance to "be good again." For many of my students, both 10th and 11th, it was the first book they ever read from beginning to end. I personally have read it five times and still find gems....it truly is a modern classic.