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The Gauntlet

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A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

Nothing can prepare you for The Gauntlet…

It didn’t look dangerous, exactly. When twelve-year-old Farah first laid eyes on the old-fashioned board game, she thought it looked…elegant.

It is made of wood, etched with exquisite images—a palace with domes and turrets, lattice-work windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider—and at the very center of its cover, in broad letters, is written: The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

The Gauntlet is more than a game, though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic. It holds worlds inside worlds. And it takes players as prisoners.

A Reading Group Guide to

The Gauntlet and The Battle

By Karuna Riazi

About the Books

Farah Mirza and her friends, Essie and Alex, are determined to rescue Farah’s little brother, Ahmad, who has been lured inside a game called Paheli. As the boundaries between reality and fantasy fade and the friends become trapped themselves, they are isolated from the world they know in New York City. A quest for survival drives them to challenge the power and authority of the Architect in a mission to dismantle the city itself. When the time comes to challenge the game a second time, Ahmad is now twelve, confronting Paheli’s riddles with his friend Winnie. They enter a newly coded world, rebuilt by the MasterMind with computer-programmed upgrades controlled by the Architect. Underneath it all, the city is rotting with dread and desperation, powered by corruption and greed. As power struggles develop, alliances form, and surreal quests and challenges unfold with strange and supernatural creatures. Winning depends on the children’s ability to face and overcome injustice with the courage to speak up for what they believe in, working together to find their way back home.

Discussion Questions

1. The Gauntlet and The Battle are narratives told from two different points of view. Farah’s first-person narrative creates the tone of The Gauntlet. Did you relate to her voice? How does her perspective impact the way the story is told?

2. A third-person omniscient narrator sets the tone for The Battle. Did switching points of view affect the way you experienced these stories? If so, in what ways? Why do you think the author chose a third-person narrator to tell the story of The Battle?

3. What drives each of the children to enter the game and willingly put themselves in danger? Consider Farah, Essie, Alex, Ahmad, and Winnie. What do their convictions reveal about them? Would you have followed them into the game? Explain your answer.

4. The children face multiple fears in their dedication to a purpose greater than themselves. As Vijay Bhai forewarned Ahmad, “‘You can’t win this game unless you take chances.’” Discuss some of these fears the children encountered and found the courage to confront. What were the outcomes? Describe a time in your life that required courage, and how you handled the situation. What did you learn from the experience?

5. The author explores a variety of themes including loss, loneliness, isolation, helplessness, social confusion, identity, bullying, injustice, belonging, vulnerability, resilience, respect, compassion, courage, hope, and friendship. Find examples of some of these in the book. What roles do these themes play in the games? What roles do they play in your life? What makes you feel safe, protected, and valued? Explain your answers.

6. How do the children feel about trust? How responsible are they for each other’s well-being and actions? How important is trust to you? How responsible do you think we should be for one another?

7. The children could not have survived the games without the help of others. What supernatural companions do they have to guide them? Consider T. T. and Henrietta especially. What are their roles? Why are these new friends so willing to help the children through the challenges?

8. Pace and momentum affect the telling of these stories. Constant commotion, upheavals, confrontations, and confusion contribute to a chaotic narrative that creates tension, fear, and uncertainty, keeping the children—and the reader—off-balance. What scene did you find most suspenseful? What was the most critical choice that had to be made, and what was the outcome? What would you have done?

9. Aunt Zohra has a “long-forgotten trauma and haunted past.” How does her experience in the game affect her behavior in the present? Why does she keep her involvement in the game a secret?

10. What is Vijay Bhai’s role in both stories? Describe the relationship he has with the other characters. What do you think of him and his intentions? Explain your answers.

11. In your opinion, what is Farah’s greatest strength? What are Ahmad’s, Winnie’s, Essie’s, Alex’s, and Vijay Bhai’s? In what ways are these strengths crucial to the unfolding stories?

12. Which character do you relate to most? What is it about that character that you identified or connected with? Which character is most unlike you, and for what reasons? How would you go about getting to know them better or finding something about them you can relate to? Who would you most want to be like? Explain your answer.

13. Why do the Architect and the MasterMind destroy the dream district of Lailat, called “a place of eternal night and endless carnivals”? What does this reveal about their motivations?

14. What were your initial impressions of Ahmad in The Gauntlet? Did your thoughts and feelings about him change as you read The Battle? In what ways?

15. Winnie often notices things that Ahmad does not. She has little patience for pretense and is not easily fooled. Are her suspicions about Madame Nasirah justified? Give examples from the text that arouse her suspicion. What do you think of Madame Nasirah?

16. In order to fully understand the loyalties in Paheli and the complexities of the games, it’s important to consider other viewpoints. What are the Architect’s, the MasterMind’s, Titus Salt’s, and the jinn’s backstories? What is the significance of their motivations? Find examples that give the reader deeper insight into each of these characters and their personal goals and struggles. Who or what is the true power in Paheli? Who are the true heroes?

17. Which parts of the story most held your interest? What scenes were the most surprising, confusing, compassionate, or memorable to you? Explain your answers.

18. What do you think is the core message of these two stories? What effect did they have on you? Have they changed your perspective about anything? Will you think about certain people or situations differently in the future?

19. Which moments of the children’s journey were most relatable? Which parts inspired you? Do you see yourself differently after reading these stories?

20. Did you find the ending of The Battle satisfying? Explain your reasoning. Do you feel there are things left unresolved or uncertain?

21. What do you think life in New York City will be like for the children after experiencing the challenges in the city of Paheli? What new realizations and inner strengths might they bring home with them?

Extension Activities

1. Do parts of Karuna Riazi’s stories remind you of other books or movies? How do these similarities strengthen your understanding and enjoyment of her stories? Discuss some references that stand out for you, what they call to mind, and how they enhance aspects of The Gauntlet and The Battle.

2. Write a letter to one of the characters in either The Gauntlet or The Battle. Who would you choose? What would you want him or her to know? What encouragement would you give? What questions would you ask? What would you reveal about yourself?

3. Ahmad struggles with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and believes himself to be lacking in several fundamental ways. He says that he “trusted Winnie but he couldn’t quite trust himself the same way.” What do you think he means by that? In what ways is he challenged by his disorder? In what ways does his ADHD serve him well as he maneuvers through the dangers and chaos? Learn about possible symptoms of ADHD and relate them to the life Ahmad is living.

4. Winnie suggests, “Don’t accept the label they put on you.” To what extent do labels define us? Discuss ways in which you label yourself, and ways in which you and your friends label one another. What are the results of doing this? Brainstorm as a class ways in which you can educate, prevent, or speak out against prejudices and sterotypes.

5. The Middle Eastern setting is essential to the story, and the experiences are rich with visually descriptive imagery and strong characterization that suggest potential for a screenplay. Visualize the special effects needed. Imagine whom you would cast in the lead roles. How would you represent the chaos from one precarious and unpredictable moment to the next? Discuss your ideas with a partner.

6. The author creates mental images using vivid and clear descriptions. Choose a moment from either of the two novels, and describe what you felt as you read the passage, responding in a way that reflects the experience for you. Your response can be in the form of a painting, collage, musical composition, poem, dance, or any other form of expression that is meaningful to you. Share your creation with your peers.

7. Author Karuna Riazi includes an abundance of references to the food, clothing, and architecture of Muslim culture. In a small group, research the references that most interest you, and share your findings.

The Gauntlet: Lexile ® HL700L

The Battle: Lexile ® 710L

The Lexile reading level has been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

This guide was prepared in 2019 by Judith Clifton, Educational Consultant, Chatham, MA. Visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry for more resources and book information.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Courtesy of the author

Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. Besides pursuing a BA in English literature from Hofstra University, she is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and publishing intern. Karuna is fond of tea, baking new delectable treats for friends and family to relish, Korean dramas, and writing about tough girls forging their own paths toward their destinies. She is the author of The Gauntlet and The Battle.

  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association's Reading List
  • Lectio Book Award Finalist (TX)

More books from this author: Karuna Riazi