Deborah Ellis, My Name is Parvana

Oxford University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0192734044

Deborah Ellis is a consistently fine, exciting and thought-provoking author who tackles pressing international issues. My Name is Parvana will delight her army of fans and gain her new ones. It succeeds as a stand-alone novel, but will be especially appealing to readers who were gripped by the Breadwinner trilogy, as it continues the story of strong, brave Parvana and her struggles in Afghanistan.

Parvana is now fifteen. Her country is no longer ruled by the Taliban but their influence is still strong. At the start of the book we find her held in an American army base, under interrogation as a suspected terrorist. Despite relentless questioning and sleep deprivation Parvana remains silent, determined to endanger none of her family or friends.

Alone in her cell she recalls her recent past. We learn about it in flashbacks interspersed in the account of her incarceration. Reunited with her mother and sisters, she has been helping run the school for girls her mother has set up against enormous odds. Parvana comforts, inspires and gives hope to the pupils. However in her forays into the local market - a perilous place for a girl on her own - she realises the extent of the threat to the haven they have created. Hostile messages warning families to keep their girls away are everywhere. Then the attacks start, first the odd brick; soon infinitely more dangerous. Parvana faces devastating loss.

The army base comes under attack. Parvana seizes the opportunity, but her escape bid is foiled by her own humanity: she cannot ignore the cries of a wounded soldier. Her interrogation is renewed. Soon she is in shackles, about to be transferred to a Kabul prison. But there is a surprise to come.

Parvana is an immensely likeable and believable character: idealistic, heroic and compassionate, but also obstinate and reckless. Her relationships with her sisters are far from easy, and the one with her mother more troubled still. Indeed all the characters are well drawn. The plot too is tremendous, and will give readers more understanding of the complex reality of contemporary Afghanistan. A great and important read.