In this best-selling book, a teenage girl must face incredible challenges in a cruel, corrupt world. She becomes the figurehead for a movement to challenge the unjust laws that limit society, and she and her loved ones are forced to pay the price for refusing to play by the rules.
I’m not talking about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, nor any other fictional account. I’m talking about I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. In this
2014 autobiography, Malala Yousafzai shares the true story of her life as a teenage activist in Taliban-occupied Pakistan. There are two versions of the New York Times bestseller– one co-written by Christina Lamb, and the version that I read, an adapted “young readers edition” written with Patricia McCormick. Though I was a little fearful that this version would be pared down to reach a younger audience, reviews that I saw online assured me that this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was noted in an online comparison of the two that the young adult version felt truer to Malala’s voice and experiences. While reading, I certainly did not feel as though the story was toned down at all. The descriptions were thorough and detailed, the events shocking and intriguing.
I Am Malala discusses the daily lives of Malala and her family in Swat, Pakistan under the strict rule of the Taliban. Malala was a top students in her class throughout elementary and middle school. However, when the Taliban began restricting and eventually banning the right of girls to receive an education, Malala refused to go down quietly and began speaking up on behalf of herself and girls everywhere. Despite death threats, Malala continued to make speeches, blog using a pseudonym, and go to school–a large act of defiance in itself. Eventually, the Taliban decided to get rid of the threat that was the then-15 year old girl. In October of 2012, when Malala was riding home from school, her bus was boarded by a Taliban soldier. Malala was shot in the head but miraculously survived the attempt on her life. She recovered in a hospital in Birmingham, England, where she lives today with her family. The incident has only served to amplify Malala’s voice further, as she now has a more elevated platform to speak out about her cause. She has won numerous awards for her work as a relentless advocate for education, most notably receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
The book starts with a description of Malala’s life before the shooting. Since Malala’s story was brought to my attention only shortly before she was attacked by the Taliban, I did not previously know much about the situation in Swat nor about Malala’s activism prior to 2012. I felt as though Malala’s own voice was very present over the course of the novel, and the beginning of the story did an excellent job of introducing the conflict and causing the reader to feel empathetic towards the situation. At times, the build up to the shooting could be a little slow—130 of 193 pages were dedicated to life before the incident. However, I don’t feel that the story suffered overall from this, as I believe the intended focus of the novel was more the issue Malala faces rather than the attack, which has been covered extensively by the media.
The portion of the story where Malala recovers in the hospital was well told. The reader learns details of the attack as Malala does and begins to understand the physical limitations of Malala’s injury, as well as grappling with the emotional pain that comes with an event of this magnitude. Because Malala writes in such a way that the reader exists alongside her in her most vulnerable moments, this part of the autobiography is incredibly moving. I was also impressed by the bravery and determination that Malala showed. It was remarkable to be able to see in such a detailed way the mindset of someone who has lived through so much but still stands for what they believe in. “Maybe the old Malala would have cried,” Malala writes when she discusses viewing her injured and swollen face for the first time. “But when you’ve nearly lost your life, a funny face in the mirror is simply proof that you are still here on this earth.”
One thing that I appreciated about the first-person style of the book was that Malala never seemed unapproachable, as the subjects of books like this often do. She seems like a normal girl in incredible circumstances. There are moments where she talked about her own flaws and also discussed her excitement about the celebrities who reached out to her, like Selena Gomez, Beyoncé, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie: “How did Angelina Jolie even know who I was?” Despite the fact that she had become one of the most famous teenagers in the world, one of her best qualities as a leader is that Malala retains a very human persona, as shown in her writing.
I recommend I Am Malala to everyone, but especially to those who dread going to school each morning and despise doing homework each night. This book puts these complaints in perspective and serves as a reminder of how important education is and how fortunate are those who receive it without facing the battle of a lifetime.
Read what others are saying about both versions of the book: