Travel Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala book reviewI picked up I Am Malala on a whim; I was strolling through Target for a toddler birthday gift and saw it on the shelf. I had seen her speech to the United Nations Assembly, and I found her message compelling. I also own that I didn’t know a lot about Pakistan, and I found that prospect compelling too. I know the dangers of only having a single story, one view through which I see the entire country. I wanted a chance to widen my perspective on the conflict in that region of the world. Malala’s book so clearly achieved that without ever seeming heavy or mired in politics and opinion.

Though Malala is most known for surviving a Taliban attack, she starts the story earlier. She writes of her childhood and the worldview her father instilled in her. You see her education advocacy work bubble to the forefront as it took root in her life — not as an overt political statement, but simply a schoolgirl’s desire to learn. It’s only as the Taliban rises to power that she weaves in current events. And that too is fascinating.

The Pakistan of Malala’s childhood is different from anything I ever considered. Throughout her story, Malala offers a Pakistani version of events that I had known only through my own American worldview. Though I try to read widely and beyond mainstream news media, I have a filtered version of the world viewed through English-language information. I am surrounded by my country’s rhetoric about Islam and the countries in and near the Middle East. Though Malala left Pakistan before ISIS took the main political stage, reading her book is perhaps even more timely in light of current events. I see American media tell just a single story about Islam and the conflict in that region. While Malala never gets overtly political, she instead uses her story to show what it felt to live through various milestone events. She writes about the friends, family, and neighbors casually killed by the Taliban in the early days. She shares her struggles during a massive internal displacement — she and all the people she loves scattered around Pakistan to flee the Taliban.

She gives a voice to what it was like living in Pakistan during a period of conflict. And through her story, it gives a slight glimpse at what families in Syria must face as ISIS fights for control of their homes and their lives.

Some have made comparisons to the diary of Anne Frank. The comparisons are apt. Both books lack artifice or fancy language. The authors don’t put on airs. They share their thoughts, hopes, and dreams with a sophisticated simplicity. Hearing the story from their viewpoint allowed me to see a clearer truth. Malala tells her story with unflinching honesty and a clarity of language that speaks louder than any fancy prose could. Last week, a friend shared that he would have more compassion for Syrian refugees if he had even a single Muslim friend. He knew his worldview was limited without a nuanced understanding of the religion and the people from this region. And you know, Malala’s story just might be that Trojan horse in disguise. She might just be a friend for those who want to know more about the Islam and that region of the world.

You can find I Am Malala on Amazon.

Book Giveaway

I offered a free copy of I Am Malala  to newsletter subscribers and readers.

Bonus entry question:

Tell me in the comment: What is one place on your travel wishlist for 2016?

And consider sharing the love. I’ll send you good juju if you share this post/site with one person you think might also love to read it! :)

Read my past travel book reviews, or browse my selection of the best books about countries around the world. And read my reviews policy and disclaimer. Although I occasionally allow a company or author to host a giveaway, I sponsored this month myself.

9 Responses to Travel Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

  1. Ulf June 5, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    I really liked your review and reflection. It carries a vibration of clearsightedness and of being genuine, something that I haven’t felt in many other reviews of the same book so far.

    I also just wanted to humbly add that Pakistan is not located in the Middle East. Rather it is South Asia. There is a real difference. People often make that mistake though. I guess the factor of religion gets in the way of geography.

    Warmest wishes!

    • Shannon O'Donnell June 5, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      Thank you Ulf, I appreciate your kinds words. And a fair point on the Middle East. It’s a result of the media here. The Bush Administration called the region “Greater Middle East” to include Pakistan and the majority Muslim countries in that region. But it’s imprecise language on my part, so I will adjust the post a bit to reflect that!

  2. Gemma @ gemmajaneadventures December 15, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    I am Malala sounds like a fascinating book to read. I recently read one about an Indian boy who was lost at 5, and ended up being adopted by Australians. 25years later he found his way back home. It was a very moving tale, and I would love to read more stories about similar happenings to help learn more about the world and individual peoples lives as I think it’s a brilliant way to get an insight into different cultures.
    As for my 2016 travel wish list, i’d love to visit Nepal. I’ve long wanted to trek in the Himalayas. I’m heading to Asia in February…so I guess it all depends on budget and plans! Fingers crossed, and thank you for the giveaway! :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell December 21, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      Hi Gemma! You won this month’s giveaway! I’ll shoot you an email with more specifics. So excited to hear about your Asia plans — Nepal is beautiful and they could surely use the tourism if you are able to make it there. :)

  3. Ashley December 15, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    I’d love to enter! I read 38 books this year, and next year I start my Gap year and I’m switching to a e-reader for the first time to be more travel savy. I’m hoping to be able to adapt to the change (i love my hard copies so much). This is one book that I still unfortunately have not picked up.

    One place on my travel wishlist is Egypt!! Which I hope to check off my list by the end of the year next year.

  4. Kate December 14, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    This is so cool! I was about to pick up a copy because the 10th grade English teachers might add this to our reading curriculum. So glad you did a book review on it, Shannon!

  5. Stephanie December 14, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    I always appreciate your travel book reviews! I haven’t picked this one up yet–regardless of the contest I am sure I will in 2016–so many important themes seem weaved throughout it. Happy holidays!!

  6. Meredith Grace Redman December 14, 2015 at 4:11 am #

    This is an amazing story that I would love to read. I would love to visit new York city in 2016.

  7. Gretchen December 13, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

    Thanks for sponsoring this contest. Your reasons for wanting to read her book mirror mine. We desperately need to learn more about other cultures and faiths, both to increase empathy and to allow us to counter bigotry and hate speech. Malala is a wonderful inspiration. I’m taking an informal sabbatical starting in February, so I hope this will be the year of travel, starting with a return to Laos and hopefully Burma, since I’ll be in the neighborhood!

Leave a Reply