My Name is Parvana by D. Ellis
Ellis, Deborah. My Name is Parvana. Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2012. Print.
In this final book in the The Breadwinner series, we meet the indomitable Afghani protagonist, Parvana, again, at the age of 15. The story begins with Parvana being interrogated in an American military base after she is discovered in a bombed out school. She refuses to acknowledge her captors and remains silent. The story unfolds through Parvana’s flashbacks as she endures the various methods employed to make her talk, including food and sleep deprivation.. We learn that Parvana’s family has left the refugee camp and started a school for girls. It seems their dreams have come true, but there is danger everywhere. New laws are in place to protect women’s rights, but old habits and beliefs, die hard. Threatening notes begin to arrive. Parvana is accosted in the streets. Students and teachers are driven away by the threats, and without students the school will lose its funding. The setbacks continue to pile up until at last we realize why Parvana is alone and imprisoned.
Through careful crafting, Ellis creates a story that is heartrending without being horrific. Skillful use of flashbacks and foreshadowing soften the shock of atrocities by giving us clues before they occur. She shows respect for her young readers by giving enough detail for them to understand what is happening without becoming gory. Despite the incredible challenges she faces, Parvana finds hope, and new dream, in the end. This novel also provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the use of voice in writing. Some people would say Ellis, a white, Canadian woman, has no right to use an Afghani voice. Yet Ellis’ is an educated voice. She has spent time travelling in Afghanistan and interviewing Afghani children. In an interview for Page Turners Book Club, Ellis asserts that she is giving voices to people who do not usually appear in books and providing information for children and teens who are “hungry to find out about how the world works and how they can create their own place in the world”. My Name is Parvana is an appropriate companion for Ellis’ non-fiction book Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-ending War and other information texts about children’s lives in Afghanistan. While Ellis should not be the only voice for Afghani women and children, hers is certainly a powerful and effective one. Her goal of building connections for young Canadians and creating a climate for understanding is laudable.
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Kathy Inglis
Kathy Inglis is a teacher-librarian and kindergarten teacher at South Park Family School in Victoria, BC and a Masters student in the Teacher-Librarianship through Distance Learning Program at the University of Alberta. Her favourite part of the job is seeing the excited look on the faces of students who have found that perfect book.