The second part of Canadian anti-war activist Deborah Ellis‘ lauded Breadwinner Trilogy continues with Parvana’s odyssey to reunite with her surviving family. Parvana and her recently released father leave Kabul at the end of The Breadwinner, determined to find Parvana’s mother, older sister, younger sister, and toddler brother who traveled north for her older sister’s wedding.
Journey begins with harsh tragedy … at the graveside of Parvana’s father. Parvana is still traveling as Kaseem, but at 14, she will not be able to hide her true gender much longer. The villagers are initially welcoming of Parvana, but soon she must escape in the middle of the night after being warned that she is about to be sold to the Taliban.
All alone and not even certain of where she is going, Parvana recites multiplication tables, just as her father taught her, to keep her going during the most trying times. Barely able to take care of her own self, Parvana’s wanderings lead her to a struggling baby in a bombed-out village whose dead mother lies beside him, then an angry, abused young boy who has already lost a leg, and finally an imaginative little girl who believes she is forever safe from land mines that litter the damaged, broken, war-torn country. Together, the foursome form a new kind of family …
Parvana shares not only her strength and protection with the younger children, she also tries to impart her hard-won education, teaching her new siblings to read and write. She writes undeliverable letters as often as she can to her friend Shauzia, who also survived life in Kabul as a cross-dressing breadwinner for her family, with whom Parvana shares the secret promise of meeting at the top of the Eiffel Tower in (now less than) 20 years.
In spite of the endless difficulties she faces, Parvana holds on to her father’s beloved books as long as she can, as well as the single copy of a feminist magazine her mother helped to write and produce before the family was scattered. Parvana is determined she will not only find her missing family … but she will one day put her mother’s brave, banned work into her waiting hands.
Ellis creates another challenging, fast-moving story about the will to survive, even in the youngest, most vulnerable souls. The children’s ability to nurture one another even as adults prove unreliable provide moments of uplifting wonder. Truly, the future lies in children … their resilience, their determination, their forgiveness, and their awe-inspiring hope.
Readers: Middle Grade