Cross-Blog Pollination-I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
I posted this review first on my children's and young adult book blog, Second Childhood Reviews this morning, and while I don't usually review the children's and YA books I read here on this blog (after all, that's why I have two!), this book is worth sharing with a wider audience. I imagine my own daughter at 10, and can only feel rage at a society that allows-hell, encourages-the sexual assault and physical abuse of young girls.
Summary: (from publisher) Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age, young Nujood Ali was sent away from her parents and beloved sisters and made to live with her husband and his family in an isolated village in rural Yemen. There she suffered daily from physical and emotional abuse by her mother-in-law and nightly at the rough hands of her spouse. Flouting his oath to wait to have sexual relations with Nujood until she was no longer a child, he took her virginity on their wedding night. She was only ten years old.
Unable to endure the pain and distress any longer, Nujood fled—not for home, but to the courthouse of the capital, paying for a taxi ride with a few precious coins of bread money. When a renowned Yemeni lawyer heard about the young victim, she took on Nujood’s case and fought the archaic system in a country where almost half the girls are married while still under the legal age. Since their unprecedented victory in April 2008, Nujood’s courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has attracted a storm of international attention. Her story even incited change in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, where underage marriage laws are being increasingly enforced and other child brides have been granted divorces.
Review: Nujood's story is simply but powerfully written. Detailing a loss of innocence that was made all the more brutal for coming from the betrayal of her parents, I Am Nujood is both an easy and a difficult read. While the sexual assaults that she endured daily are only described in much detail once, the effect of it on her is both tragic and ultimately redemptive. Despite all teachings to the contrary, Nujood refuses to accept that her fate as a woman is to be beaten and raped by her "husband", showing a bravery that not many adult women in repressive societies do. Her determination to move forward and help other girls is an example to any survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, whether from countries where the practice is societally supported or from more "enlightened" countries like America, where supposedly we value women more.
But this book is much more than one personal story of survival and redemption. This book can be used to highlight the very real problem of forced child marriage that exists in parts of the developing world. Unicef estimates that in Africa, there the practice is prevalent, 42% of girls will be married before the age of 18, many without their consent. This means that a lack of formal schooling and a separation from the rest of society will only lead to a perpetuation of the cycle for their daughters. Child marriage is most often the result of poverty combined with a rigid sense of honor. This sense of having to "honor" the family by putting up with abuse is pervasive and makes girls in this situation feel ashamed of their desire not to be married. There is much work to be done to help women world-wide gain the education and rights necessary for them to have true self-determination, not to have to choose between the equally unacceptable alternatives of staying with their family and starving or being forced into a marriage with an older man and enduring whatever abuse he chooses to throw her way.
While the reading level for this book is quite low, the content is mature, and should it should be read with guidance by younger teens. I believe that it could be a very powerful book to use in the classroom, however, not necessarily for its literary merit as much as for the issues it raises about human rights. While the description of Nujood's rape on the first night of her marriage is disturbing, it is not graphic in nature in terms of language. I believe that it would make an excellent addition to any high school literature or social sciences curriculum, and that it could be used as a jumping-off point for a unit on the status of girl children throughout the world.