THE BREADWINNER, by Deborah Ellis, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press


Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, 11-year-old Parvana has rarely been outdoors. Barred from attending school, shopping at the market, or even playing in the streets of Kabul, the heroine of Deborah Ellis’s engrossing children’s novel The Breadwinner is trapped inside her family’s one-room home. That is, until the Taliban hauls away her father and Parvana realizes that it’s up to her to become the “breadwinner” and disguise herself as a boy to support her mother, two sisters, and baby brother. Set in the early years of the Taliban regime, this topical novel for middle readers explores the harsh realities of life for girls and women in modern-day Afghanistan. A political activist whose first book for children, Looking for X, dealt with poverty in Toronto, Ellis based The Breadwinner on the true-life stories of women in Afghan refugee camps.

In the wily Parvana, Ellis creates a character to whom North American children will have no difficulty relating. The daughter of university-educated parents, Parvana is thoroughly westernized in her outlook and responses. A pint-sized version of Offred from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Parvana conceals her critique of the repressive Muslim state behind the veil of her chador. Although the dialogue is occasionally stilted and the ending disappointingly sketchy, The Breadwinner is essential reading for any child curious about ordinary Afghans. Like so many books and movies on the subject, it is also eerily prophetic. “Maybe someone should drop a big bomb on the country and start again,” says a friend of Parvana’s. “‘They’ve tried that,’ Parvana said, ‘It only made things worse.'” (Ages 9 to 12) –Lisa Alward


I received this book in exchange for my honest review. I would not call this book a graphic novel, but a chapter book or novel.

I feel, that there are certain books that must be read during one’s lifetime and this book is one of them.  This world is full of repression: repression about color, repression about sex, repression about class, repression about knowledge, repression about privacy, repression about wealth… and so on.

This particular book focuses on the repression of females, regardless of age, and knowledge.  The Taliban are threatened by both and feel it necessary to do whatever they can to keep women and knowledge controlled.

The idea that being a woman means you have no freedom is ridiculous. In Kabul, Afghanistan, females are shunned, controlled, enslaved and repressed. If you are a man who is educated, and because education could mean learning the truth about what the Taliban are doing and doing something about it, such as organize and/or stage a revolt, then you are kept under the tight control of the Taliban and repressed from doing anything but what they feel necessary to their cause.

It’s a sad book, filled with despair and no hope.  You will read about a girl who must hide the fact that she is a girl behind the disguise of a boy/male in order to obtain food for her family.  What the book does do, is bring to light the horrific conditions of living in Afghanistan if you are female.

The Protagonist, Parvana, is extraordinary. She is the epitome of bravery, courage and strength.  What we take for granted in Canada, she has to fight for, and always with the constant threat of death should her deceit be found out.  Freedom, is a luxury, a far-off dream for fools, because survival is much more important in Parvana’s family of women.

Although a middle-grade read, adults need to pick this book up and read it too.  Awareness about a culture we are far too quick to judge is needed, and this book sheds a lot of light of topics unknown to many.

The book itself is beautiful, a quick read and written very well. The author has done her research and created incredible characters to send her message to readers.

This author lives in Canada, about two hours away from me. I think her achievements of her Breadwinner series in raising awareness of Afghanistan children and their plight for survival in a war zone is incredible. I can’t even begin to imagine growing up in a never-ending war, especially since my own childhood was wonderful.  You need to read the follow-up to the children featured in this series to see what these children are doing since the fall of the Taliban regime.

I’m impressed with the author’s detailed research, her simplistic yet hard-hitting writing style and the message contained in “The Breadwinner.” The royalties from the sale of this book will go to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan ( Parvana’s Fund supports education projects for Afghan women and children.

The book structure, character development, plot flow, tension, voice and setting are all bang-on! Well done!

I give this book:


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