Book Review: The Breadwinner Deborah Ellis

The Breadwinner is a thought-provoking middle-grade book by Canadian author Deborah Ellis.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars

My Rating: 5 Stars

Goodreads Summary:

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.'”

My Thoughts:

I read this book as part of one of my classes during Teacher’s college. The Breadwinner is one of those books that everyone should read. It’s a young adult book, so it won’t take experienced readers that long to get through. I sat down and read it in one sitting yesterday. It opens the mind to a world so very different from the Western one. Even if you know a lot about the history of Afghanistan, Parvana’s perspective still puts it in a very interesting way. What better way to explore the horrors of humanity than through the eyes of child? Especially a child forced by circumstances to fill an adult role. Another great part of the book is how it shows both sides and basically reminds everyone that all humans are the same. Young people should read it as an introduction and adults should read it as a reminder.

Have you read this one?


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