Mud City by Deborah Ellis
The final installment of Canadian activist/author Deborah Ellis‘ award-winning Breadwinner Trilogy follows Shauzia, Parvana’s best friend from The Breadwinner, in which both girls survived by cross-dressing as young boys, working to provide for their shuttered-in families in Taliban-controlled Kabul. While Parvana’s desperate odyssey to reunite with her family continues in Parvana’s Journey, Shauzia’s story takes her to a refugee camp in Pakistan, just beyond the Afghanistan border.
Shauzia shares a tent with Mrs. Weera, a domineering woman who was once the girls’ athletics teacher, who is now involved with running secret schools, clinics, and publishing a feminist magazine. Shauzia is tired of doing “little jobs” for Mrs. Weera, being ordered around, feeling suffocated in the refugee camp. Inspired by a magazine cut-out of a lavendar field somewhere in France, Shauzia dreams of faraway escape. Filled with defiant independence, Shauzia heads to the busy city of Peshawar with her loyal dog, Jasper, expecting to find enough work to pay her passage to freedom, away from hunger, suffering, war, and especially Mrs. Weera’s endless demands.
Supporting herself, of course, proves to be far more difficult than she ever expected. She finds a few odd jobs, but must resort to theft, begging, and running with hardened street kids in hopes of staying as safe as possible. She lands in jail, is saved by an ex-pat American family, but her respite is brief and she finds herself back where she started. How she will ever achieve her dreams seems to be a daunting, neverending challenge.
Of the trilogy, Mud City, is admittedly the weakest (less developed characters, the American deus ex machina gone awry), although only in comparison to the previous two titles. Certainly Mud could stand alone, but reading all three is more rewarding, enriched by the many small details that bind the three stories together.
Although the trilogy is seemingly finished, adding a final fourth which captures Shauzia and Parvana’s reunion would surely be welcome … indeed, those promised 20 years have nearly passed. Book 1 is set sometime in or close to 1996 (when the Taliban claimed Kabul), and books 2 and 3 about three years later (Parvana is 14 in Journey). Already, we’re in 2011, so somehow, the two cross-dressing girls – now fully grown women – are due for reunion at the Eiffel Tower’s peak in just five short years … oh, to imagine that …!
Readers: Middle Grade