Deborah Ellis: The Breadwinner

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my fifth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 13 and up. Themes include war, relations with parents and siblings, responsibility, and life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The genre is international fiction.

Parvana is an 11-year old girl living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. If she wants to go outside, she has to cover her head and shoulders with a cloth. Her older sister and her mother have to cover their entire bodies with burqa, a kind of tent-like head-to-toe dress with a mesh covering over the eyes, and they must be accompanied by a man at all times. Women are not allowed to work. Parvana’s parents used to be university professors, but the universities are now closed and her parents’ home was destroyed by bombs, so they have had to move their family several times. The family is now living in a one-room apartment. Parvana’s father lost a leg in one of the bombings, so Parvana must help him walk. Her father works as a letter reader and writer at the local market while the rest of the family stays hidden in the one-room apartment. One day, some Taliban soldiers visit Parvana’s home and arrest her father. Without a man to take care of them, the family will be ruined, so they decide to cut off Parvana’s hair and have her act like a boy. She goes to the market and works as a letter reader and writer and does the shopping for the family with the little money she makes. The story is told through Parvana’s eyes and includes her thoughts about her parents and siblings, living under an oppressive regime, and her future.

I enjoyed reading this book and learning about what it must have been like for women and children to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I liked the characters and I felt that the premise of the story was interesting; however, I think the author could have done a better job at developing the storyline. Several events happen in the story, but there isn’t a natural progression that leads to a climax and a resolution. The story just kind of ends. I learned after reading it that the author has written more books in this series (Parvana’s Journey, Mud City), so perhaps there is a better story arc to be found by reading all of them, rather than just one. I think that young adults who are interested in learning about life in other countries would enjoy reading this book. Also, Parvana’s struggles with her older sister are universal and can be appreciated by little sisters everywhere. There is some violence in this book, so I think it might be better for older readers, or at least readers who are not sensitive to violence in stories.


Here is a booktalk that I recorded for my course.