On October 9, 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school in Pakistan, when her bus abruptly halted and a Taliban soldier climbed up to look at the students. “Who is Malala?” he asked. Several of Malala’s classmates looked over at her, but no one answered. The soldier raised a pistol and shot Malala in the face. News of the attack sent shockwaves around the world. Now, a recovering Malala seeks to answer the soldier’s question in her deeply moving book I Am Malala.
Like many people, I only knew Malala as “that girl who was shot by the Taliban.” Then my aunt mentioned that she was reading the book and called it “enlightening and inspiring.” (She’s a librarian, so when she talks books, I listen!) Written with British journalist Christina Lamb, I Am Malala begins on the day of the attack, then delves into Pakistan’s tumultuous history, tracing the events that led to the current political climate. Malala narrates throughout and intertwines her own family history with that of her beloved country. In a straightforward and engaging voice, she takes us beyond the headlines and gives us a firsthand look at life in this troubled corner of the world.
Malala was targeted by the Taliban because she was a vocal proponent for girls’ education. Her stance was unusual in a culture where many women are illiterate and confined to life behind the veil. But Malala’s father, Ziauddin, refused to raise her that way. He believed that lack of education was at the heart of Pakistan’s problems and dreamed of a day when every child – boy or girl, rich or poor – could go to school. He eventually founded the Khushal School that Malala attended.
The rise of the Taliban put their school and everyone associated with it at risk, but Malala and Ziauddin continued to speak out. I was profoundly impressed by their determination to keep going despite nearly unimaginable obstacles. They faced threats and intimidation, along with financial hardship, a catastrophic earthquake in 2005 and widespread flooding in 2009. Violent conflicts between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban even forced them to flee their village for several months.
The attack on Malala was the climax, but by no means the end, of her story. Today, she and her family live in Birmingham, England, where doctors were able to save her life and restore her smile. Malala still advocates on behalf of girls around the world through The Malala Fund and hopes to return to her homeland someday. She also hopes to eventually move past the events of October 2012. “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education,’” she says.
I Am Malala truly is enlightening and inspiring. It’s also a powerful reminder of all that we take for granted in Western society. Watch for a Young Readers’ Edition of the book to be released in August.