This review is of the English translation of a French book.
This book was a complete impulse buy. One day, I was browsing the nonfiction at a used bookstore and came across a book cover with a photo of a little girl. The title said the girl was 10 and divorced. I had to know what the heck was going on. This is the clickbait of book covers.
Nujood Ali is born into a poor family in Yemen. Her parents can’t afford to feed all of their children, so when Nujood is 10, she’s “married” (married=sold) to a man in his 30s. Nujood is beaten and raped by her husband until she finds a way to escape and get to a courthouse. The judges and lawyers at the courthouse have never encountered a 10-year-old who wants a divorce, and they do everything they can to help her. Nujood makes international news as “the youngest divorcee in the world.”
This book is meant to raise awareness about underage marriage, especially in the Middle East. In countries all over the world, young girls are given to older men because of cultural traditions or poverty. Forcing a child to become a wife is psychologically damaging to the child, and many child brides commit suicide. Underage marriage has to be stopped because children need to be children. It’s not healthy to force them into adult roles. Nujood’s story is unusual because she was able to escape from her husband and get help, but she’s not the only child bride in the world. Underage marriage is surprisingly common.
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced shows the best and worst of humanity. The men in Nujood’s life (including her father and brothers) treat her like property. Women don’t have many rights in Yemen, and children have even fewer rights. Nujood’s family is so poor that the children have to beg for money and food on the street. It’s not an easy existence.
“In Khardji, the village where I was born, women are not taught how to make choices.” - I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced
When Nujood escapes from her husband and gets to the courthouse, things change. The people who work there are amazing. They take Nujood into their homes to keep her safe from her husband and father. Then they get her a divorce and make her story as public as possible so other child brides know that help is out there.
“My mind was made up: I’d do whatever I had to. I was ready to climb mountains to keep from finding myself lying on that mat again, night after night, all alone against that monster.” - I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced
This book achieves its goal of raising awareness, but I have some issues with the writing. The story is aimed at Western middlegrade/young YA readers, and it feels kind of shallow. I don’t need graphic details about Nujood’s abusive marriage, but I would have liked more info about the legal system in Yemen. The author(s) were probably worried about boring their target audience, but I think the story is compelling enough that it could have included more details without losing its readers.
Also, I was slightly confused about whose story I was reading. The book is written in first-person from Nujood’s point-of-view. But, Nujood is a pre-literate 10-year-old. She only knows how to write her name. Obviously, she didn’t write this book. She worked with a French journalist cowriter, and sometimes the narrative seems like an adult trying to sound like a 10-year-old. Since I read a translation of the original book, it feels like there are a lot of layers of authors/translators between me and Nujood. I kept wondering if the adults were putting their words in Nujood’s mouth. This book would have been more comfortable to read if it was a piece of journalism instead of a first-person narrative. The target audience might not have liked that, though. Kids don’t usually read newspapers.
Obviously, I have some mixed feelings about this one. It’s a quick read that raises awareness about underage marriage, but I’m not a fan of the way it’s written.