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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Name is Parvana, written by Deborah Ellis. Groundwood, 2012. $16.95 ages 12 and up

"That's what I wanted, Parvana thought, as she walked by a peddler with a cart full of plastic sandals. All she had wanted, all those years, was a normal life. She wanted to sit in a school room, in clean clothes, and have her family with her. And now that she had all that, all she could do was complain."

You will remember Parvana if you were lucky enough to read Deborah Ellis' award-winning Breadwinner trilogy.  She is now 15 years old, and as independent, self-assured and opinionated as we would expect her to be, knowing the trauma and terror of her earlier life.

She has been working with her mother and sister in a school for girls that they have opened under the name, Leila's Academy of Hope. Parvana is studying hard, showing her ability to learn quickly and wanting to finish her high school studies.

Her story is told in alternating chapters. It begins with questioning by a uniformed man and a female translator:

"Is your name Parvana?"
Their words were louder this time, as though it were a lack of volume that kept the girl from responding. The girl did not move and did not answer. She kept her eyes on the scuff mark on the floor and did not look up."

Each chapter to follow the ones that concern her interrogation and mistreatment over suspicion of harbouring terrorists, tell the family story and the work they have done to provide an opportunity for the education of Afghani girls. The girls are sent by their families to school, always under threat from the Taliban and those who live by the old beliefs concerning the menace of education for women. Parvana works hard to make the school a success despite her mother's haranguing and her sister's insistence that she is not worthy of notice, except to be treated miserably.

As a detainee, Parvana's strong character remains resolute. She will not speak, and pretends not to understand the questioning. She has spunk, and is a strong and worthy protagonist. I had great admiration for her in the first books, and that only grows in this new look at her life.

The story unfolds; we come to know that the many threats to her mother for her unwavering work at the school are not idle. When she is murdered, and with her older sister in New York at school, it is up to Parvana and her adopted brother, Asif, to decide what must be done. Her rescue, along with those who have become her new family, by two old friends is not a happy ending. It shows readers  that the struggle continues, especially for women in Afghan society.

As I tore through this book from chapter to chapter, always wanting to know what was happening with Parvana, I learned more about the ongoing, terror-filled world of the Afghan people and the dire circumstances that they face every day. Women remain strong and purposeful despite daily attempts to thwart their spirit and determination.

Deborah Ellis is a skilled and compassionate writer and she, once again, brings the plight of women living in Afghanistan to our attention. Her afterword charges the world with a task:

"For the Afghan people, life must go on. And individuals like Parvana, Shauzia and Mrs. Weera are working to make life better. They, and the many, many Afghan women, men and children like them, are the ones the world needs to support. We owe it to them."

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