When Jameela, a young Afghan girl, loses her Mor (the Pushto word for mother) to illness, she can’t imagine that anything worse can happen. Her mother was the kindest, most loving presence in her life. Born with a cleft lip she keeps hidden as much as possible, Jameela was well aware she would never be considered attractive, but her mother always told her, “‘If you can’t be beautiful, you should at least be good.’” And ‘good’ Jameela continues to try to be.
Left alone with her drinking, gambling, disappearing father, she is suddenly uprooted without warning from their small home village to the big city of Kabul. Jameela is quickly put to work as a house servant, and is uprooted again when her father unexpectedly remarries. Her new stepmother is selfish and abusive, although her new stepbrother seems to have a generous heart and tries to teach Jameela to read. But the brief, almost-family-like respite for Jameela doesn’t last long: her irresponsible father is easily manipulated by his new wife to abandon Jameela in a crowded market intersection. With nowhere to go, no one to turn to, Jameela must rely on the kindness of strangers to survive, but eventually she finds a home, new friends, and for the first time in her life, she finally begins her education.
Rukhsana Khan based her latest novel for young readers on the true story of another young girl, Sameela, documented in a single paragraph in “a report on children in crisis that was issued by Afghanistan’s department of orphanages,” she explains in her ending “Author’s Note.” Khan sets her story in 2001 just after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, already a ravaged nation. “When countries go to war, it is always civilians, especially children, who suffer the most.” Such simple, heartbreaking truth indeed.
Access to education will ensure Jameela’s future. Khan’s book is yet further testimony that educating girls can and will make the most lasting, powerful difference in changing the persistent tragedies of the world. Khan’s title, is both homage to Jameela’s mother, but also a fervent prayer for more, for education, for a future, for peace. Indeed, educate girls and the impossible will become possible.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult