CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 1. . . .September 7, 2012
My Name is Parvana.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2012.
201 pp., hardcover & epub, $16.95 (hc.), $14.95 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-297-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-299-8 (epub).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Joan Marshall.
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
As she headed back into the school yard, she spotted something else on the ground.
At first it looked like a big sack tied up with a rope.
Then she saw the small feet sticking out of it.
"Mr. Fahir!" she called out.
She dropped the newspaper and ran to the bundle, untying the rope and flinging away the rags that covered it.
The child moved. It was alive.
Parvana gently brushed the hair away from the child's face.
A little girl stared back at her.
"Salaam alaikum," Parvana said. "Who are you?"
The child whimpered.
Parvana's calls had awakened her mother.
"What's going on?"
"Somebody dropped off their daughter," Mr. Fahir said. "It happened in the night. I didn't see or hear anything."
"They tied her up and left her!" said Parvana.
Mr. Fahir scooped up the girl in his arms. They all went into the dining hall where the woodstove was newly lit and giving off some warmth. Away from the cool morning air, they could smell how filthy the girl was.
"She weighs nothing," said Mr. Fahir. He slowly put her down on a chair.
"What's your name?" Mother asked her. "Who left you out there? Where are you from?"
In this sequel to the "Breadwinner" series, Parvana is 15-years-old and has spent the last four years helping her mother to run Leila's Academy of Hope, a school for girls, and studying to complete her high school courses. Told in alternating chapters is the story of how Parvana's mother was murdered and the school was bombed, and how Parvana, who was captured by the foreign army as they suspected her of harbouring terrorists, is questioned and detained. In the face of their questioning, Parvana remains silent. In the end, she is rescued dramatically by Mrs. Weera, a powerful Afghani politician, and her old friend, Shauzia.
Parvana's character sparkles and enlivens this grim tale. All Parvana wants is to go to school and to have her family safe. Once that is achieved, though, Parvana is surprised at how unsettled and angry she is. She longs for more responsibility as she chafes against her mother's orders. No one takes her seriously while her older sister, Nooria, gets all her mother's attention and approval and is even granted a full scholarship to study in the United States. Meanwhile, Parvana's younger sister, Maryam, is difficult to keep under control. Although Parvana argues with her adopted brother, Asif, she does accept his advice and is grateful for his help when their world literally collapses around them. Ellis creates a great character in Parvana, gradually unfolding Parvana's strengths as she struggles along through the idealism and high emotion of adolescence.
Secondary characters reveal their individual quirkiness through their actions and the witty, urgent dialogue. Parvana's mother is always in a rush, issuing orders and expecting very high standards of behaviour from her children Nooria has learned this same bossy behaviour and is happy to be in charge of a class of students. Asif works magic with all machines, but it is his steady, calm influence that displays the behaviour of the ideal Afghani man. The English speaking Major who interrogates Parvana could be American or Canadian. His frustration with Parvana, his concern for the Afghani people, and his determination to succeed in spite of his misconceptions are clear from his comments to the even-handed interpreter and his questions to Parvana.
The complex and ambiguous nature of Afghani politics and internal warfare is released slowly in the events surrounding the establishment of Leila's Academy of Hope. There is no telling here. As Parvana is chased and harassed by angry men who are fearful of women's education, as the Taliban force the school's caretaker, Mr. Fahir, to store their weapons in the school's shed, as Parvana's family holds an open house to dispel rumours, as a young girl with her baby escapes from a vicious husband into the school, as fighting breaks out all around the school, as Shauzia, disguised as an old peddler, rescues Parvana, Asif and the children, and finally as the school is bombed by the foreign forces (although it is clearly labeled "SCHOOL"), the horror that is modern day Afghanistan is easily revealed to the intended reader. Wrapped up in all this is the tension over whether Parvana and her family will escape.
Alternating chapters between Parvana's imprisonment and torture by foreign forces and the events of the last four years creates taut tension and sweeps the reader along. Pages will be turned eagerly, and it will be impossible to put My Name is Parvana down once it is started. Both boys and girls will be fascinated and compelled to read this harrowing tale.
The perseverance and suffering of the women of Afghanistan are Ellis' themes. Afghanistan is, according to the United Nations, one of the worst countries in the world for the rights of girls and women. Royalties from the sales of this book will join the one million dollars already received from the Parvana series that Ellis has donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International. So not only is this book an outstanding story, its sales will also help to alleviate the horrendous plight of women and children in Afghanistan. An author's note at the end of the story sets out simply and clearly what is currently going on in Afghanistan.
My Name is Parvana is a must-read for all Canadian and American middle school students and should be in every school library.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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