The story of the girl who was shot by the Taliban for going to school is well-known now that that girl, Malala Yousafzai, has won the Nobel Peace Prize and started an international foundation to advocate for schooling for girls all over the world. I picked up her memoir, I Am Malala, as my “memoir” selection for my graduate class on young adult literature and dived deep into a story about family, a foreign land, and a girl’s fight in the face of evil.
Malala and her family were residents of the Swat, an area of Pakistan, and her family was not very well-off. Her father oversaw a series of schools, which is where Malala got her passion for education. Malala, unlike many other girls, was very lucky to have a family who valued education and did not try and marry her off at the first sign of puberty or keep her home. Malala’s own mother stopped going to school at age six. The book is a true memoir and follows Malala’s life from her parent’s meeting and having her, after a stillborn daughter, to her life post the attack. I didn’t realize that Malala had such a profile before the attack, being an advocate for education on a national level and that she had been profiled by the BBC and the NYT. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it was an interesting addition to the narrative I knew.
Throughout the memoir, you get to truly know Malala, a double-jointed girl who loved school, eschewed jewelry for her own good, had fights with her best friend, loved her faith, and wanted to change the world. Malala’s story isn’t about the greatness of Islam or anything like that, it’s about how the faith she loves was corrupted by the Taliban and how she and her family stayed true to true Islam even when evil groups tried to say they were breaking the rules.
Malala is leaving school one day after taking her exam in Pakistan Studies when the bus is stopped and a man asks, “Who is Malala?” Hence, I am Malala, the title of this memoir. Then he shoots her, also injuring two other girls on the bus. The fight to save her life is on, and it won’t be easy with so many media narratives spinning and the Taliban themselves declaring her an enemy to Islam and a promoter of secular education. Malala is of course not awake for a good part of the aftermath of her attack, but she relays the story through the actions of the doctors and her parents deftly.
Teens interested in learning about a new culture from the people living there will enjoy this book. It’s not too heavy-handed, even for a book that came about due to such a tragic event, and Malala does an excellent job of explaining the parts of her life that may be hard for the average American teen to understand, like being “in purdah” and even the history of Pakistan. Centering a book that talks a lot about international affairs through the eyes of a teen girl just trying to go to school with her friends makes this an excellent book to read with teens. The talk of violence isn’t too much for a sensitive reader, though obviously it’s a tense situation. You can also listen to her Nobel Prize speech to supplement this or watch the NYT documentary.