A Must Read: I Am Malala


I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christine Lamb

Reviewed by Lois Rubin Gross

I seldom devote an entire blog post to one book, but I Am Malala is an important book that tells the story of a very important young woman.  In its own way, it’s a book that bears comparison to The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, written seventy years ago by another teenager in harrowing circumstances. The i am malalatwo young women, living decades apart, share a similar commitment to making a positive difference in the world and a similar belief that, despite their oppressors, there’s an underlying goodness in mankind. It’s amazing to find this streak of optimism in both books because both young women saw the very worst that humanity produces aimed at them through an accident of religious identity or gender.

Malala’s book is ghost-written by British journalist, Christina Lamb, who treads a very delicate path between achieving a smooth delivery of information while maintaining Malala’s true voice. The story is skillfully treated. Malala’s unique story actually begins with her birth. In a country that prizes sons above daughters, Malala’s father, Ziuddian Yousafzai, proclaims that he is happy to have a daughter and will see her educated just as he would a son. Ziuddian, who is a teacher by profession, opens a school in Mingora, Pakistan, and from the age of two, Malala is part of the school, sitting on teacher’s laps and learning all that she’s able to.

Ziuddian cultivates in all three of his children, but especially in Malala, a spirit of academic competitiveness that sees her perennially coming out at the top of her classes and winning public speaking contests. It’s interesting that from such an early age, Malala is encouraged to express herself in ways that her illiterate, but strong, mother couldn’t imagine. Whenever there’s an opportunity, Malala learns to speak passionately about subjects as diverse as honor and poetry. While Pashtun tradition says that girls cannot speak their own words but must speak words written by their fathers or brothers, Malala finds that she must tell her own tale to deliver her speeches with sincerity and meaning.

Through all the challenges of her life – a war-torn country, displacement from her home, attacks on the school by the Taliban – Malala is prescient that someday she will come face to face with the enemies of progress. She even mentally prepares the speech she will deliver if she’s ever confronted by the Taliban. She plans to tell her attacker that all she wants is for all children to be educated.

Unfortunately, in October, 2012, the Taliban comes onto the school bus she’s riding and asks, “Who is Malala?” then shoots her in the face. The rest of the story has been widely reported in the media, but Lamb and Malala go through it, step by terrifying step. Malala, who is deeply religious, might say that Allah was protecting her on so many levels. By coincidence, a British doctor, Fiona Robinson, who specializes in pediatric intensive care was in Pakistan when the attack happened. She and Pakistani military doctors treated Malala’s injuries when she was triaged. The importance of the patient struck Dr. Robinson when she declared, “My God, I am treating Pakistan’s Mother Teresa.”

Malala was air lifted on a Saudi hospital jet to Birmingham, England, on her own. She awoke, days later, in a strange land without her family and with grievous injuries to her head and left side. Malala takes us through the process of recovery (as she says, she now knows a great deal about medical procedures). She also continues through her quick rise to worldwide fame as a spokesperson for the rights of all children, but especially young girls, to have an education.

In unguarded moments, when she is discussing fights with her best friend or sibling rivalry with her brothers, Malala sounds like any child and that is when the book truly resonates with memories of Anne Frank. But there is something so mature and focused about this young woman as she talks about her mission in life, to see education come to all children.

The thought that came to me, as I read the book, was that in our country so many children take the gift of education for granted. Schools that fail, schools that have high drop-out rates, schools that “teach to the test” so that students don’t learn to think as much as regurgitate, are a sad, sad statement when measured against Malala’s dedication and determination.

We can question if Malala’s father put her in an unnaturally dangerous situation by promoting his cause for education through his young daughter, but this is clearly now Malala’s cause as well. Read this book because, G-d or Allah willing, this child is a future leader of the world and one that all our children should strive to emulate.

Lois Rubin Gross has an MS in Library Sciences from Drexel University. She is currently Senior Children’s Librarian at the Hoboken (NJ) Public Library. She has also worked as a librarian for children with special needs. She is a book reviewer for Children’s Literature and a blogger for After Fifty Living and Wise Women Now. Join her Facebook book community Lois Storylady.

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