Reviewed by Ashley Nesladek
In the book I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, Malala’s story begins when she is eight years old. She describes the small village she lives in, Mingora, which is in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. She describes the place she lives as having “tall mountains, lush green hills, and crystal-clear rivers.” She also describes her family, which consists of her two brothers, her mother and her father. Unlike many girls born in Pakistan, Malala explains that her mother, and more importantly, her father are extremely supportive of her. While usually it is not something to celebrate when a girl is born in Pakistan, her family does exactly that- celebrating her birth the same way a family would normally celebrate the birth of a baby boy.
Malala’s father owns a school in their town, which Malala attends. In the beginning, she does this without fear- many girls in Pakistan attend school. She describes how the neighboring country of Afghanistan has been taken over by Taliban rule. This means that girls there are not allowed to go to school and Malala explains how grateful she is that she still has the opportunity to learn. This changes quickly, however, when the Taliban begins to infiltrate Pakistan. Malala describes what it is like when the Taliban brings terrorism to her town: “So every morning, before I rounded the corner on the way to the Khushal School, I closed my eyes and said a prayer- afraid to open them in case the school had been reduced to rubble overnight. This was what terrorism felt like.” Suddenly, Malala’s right to an education is threatened and she and her family must decide to retreat or fight back.
Malala decides, at the age of 10 years old, that she will not give up her right to an education without a fight. She resolves to continue to attend school despite the real danger she faces in doing so. Members of the Taliban are regularly beating and killing people who they believe are going against the Quran in her village, and going to school as a woman is one of the things they believe the Quran forbids. Malala’s family supports her decision and do everything possible to show her that support. Her father says to her “I will protect your freedom Malala… Carry on with your dreams”. By the end of the book, Malala comes face to face with members of the Taliban, and she is given the ultimate test in bravery and standing up for what she believes in.
Malala steps up to this challenge, and then some. From writing candidly about her experiences as a girl in Pakistan suffering from the effects of the Taliban even after her secret identity is exposed, to talking to people all over the world about her experiences, Malala goes above and beyond. She gives a voice to so many who cannot or will not speak about these atrocities. Even in the face of extreme violence, Malala makes sure her voice is heard. At one point in the book, Malala has some internal dialogue about what she would do if she came face to face with the Taliban, and this is what she comes up with: “ ‘Malala’ I said to myself. ‘Just tell him what is in your heart. That you want an education. For yourself. For all girls. For his sister, his daughter. For him.’ That’s what I would do. Then I would say, ‘Now you can do what you want.’ “
This book is extremely relevant to young adult readers in a variety of ways. Malala’s story is inspiring and heroic. Not only is she going through many of the normal coming of age experiences, like fighting with her brothers and critiquing her looks and who she will become in life, but she is doing so under extreme prejudice because of her gender. This book allows young readers to understand just how difficult life can be and may present them with a perspective they would have never experienced otherwise. This will empower young readers, and help them to believe that they truly can achieve greatness if they believe in themselves and their cause.
I am Malala was one of the best books I ever read, hands down. Malala shows a level of bravery that is unfathomable at the age of only ten years old, and she continues to show it throughout the entire book. Toward the end of the book, when she meets the President of the United States, Barack Obama, she says “If God has given you a voice, I decided, you must use it even if it is to disagree with the president of the United States.” She proves that anyone who has a deep enough desire to do so can change the world. Malala describes her journey with humility and grace in a way that is not only inspiring, but also keeps you interested in her story.