I Am Malala, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, Cult Child

I bought the wrong edition of I Am Malala. I wanted to review it as a possible book for our homeschool coop’s middle school book club, but I didn’t get the young readers’ edition. Like everyone else in the world, I was really impressed with Malala’s passion for educational advocacy, and the bravery and strength of character she inherited from her father and mother.

Malala Yousafzai was only 15 when she was shot point-blank in the head by the Taliban because she believed girls were entitled to an education. Not only did she survive, but she became a powerful advocate for human rights and the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The book traces the history of the Taliban takeover in Pakistan and its effect on her own community.

I really wanted to know more about Malala’s day-to-day life. I wanted to see the child Malala, not the fully-formed public figure. At times I wondered how she could possibly have been as aware of the world around her at such a young age, but she is clearly gifted with intellectual capabilities beyond the ordinary, and that did make her hard to relate to. I think this book would work well in a class on current events, but as a work of literature it wouldn’t offer enough for a book club to sink its teeth into. (I’m also not sure what category to put it in–Malala is Pakistani, but I don’t think I would call this Pakistani literature–or would I?)

In I Am Malala, the voice of the co-writer sometimes overpowered Malala’s own voice. In Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, this was not the case. I felt like the writer really got out of the way and tried to let the girls’ own words speak loudly. Amanda and Gina were kidnapped and held prisoner (along with Michelle Knight) by a Cleveland bus driver. Amanda had a baby during her decade of captivity (basically the real-life version of Room), and that really messed with her head because her captor was such a doting father. Ultimately, they escaped when the door was left unlocked and I have to admit I teared up when one of their rescuers said “We’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Why do men hate women so much? I got no answers after reading these books, or after reading Cult Child, Vennie Kocsis’s memoir of growing up in a cult that wasn’t explicitly male-dominated (unlike the FLDS) but the author and other girls were exploited sexually. I appreciated that this book didn’t go into graphic detail, or really any detail at all, about the abuse, instead focusing on the dissociation that took place during the abuse. What I appreciated about this memoir was the exploration of her feelings about her mother, who was recruited into the cult and turned into an abusive monster. The author mourns the woman her mother used to be, without excusing her for the wrongs she committed.

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