Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan 2009
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
IQ "Sometimes I wish I could just lie down and not wake up. Die while I'm still good, before I have a chance to go bad. Because if I go bad, everything I don't even let myself think now would come pouring out of me." Jameela pg. 71
Jameela is used to war, it's something she faces daily in her poor Afghanistan village. Jameela is happy, but she wishes she could learn to read and write. She also secretly wishes that she didn't have a cleft lip. She mourns the death of her father's relatives, a bomb went off and killed them all along with her father's kindness, now he is angry and withdrawn. Through it all, Mor (Pushto word for mother) has been by Jameela's side, guiding and loving her. Then Mor dies and Jameela's father decides to move to the big city of Kabul. Kabul is so different from the life Jameela knew in her village and she' not sure she'll ever be able to adjust. All she wants is to have Mor back.
This story is all about Jameela and that's good and bad. I didn't like that because I felt that the rest of the characters were ignored. I really wanted to learn more about the stories of the other girls at the orphanage where Jameela ends up. Well, not all the girls, but the ones who she mentions the most. That's all she does, briefly mention them but she never delves deeper into their stories (Zeba, Soraya, Arwa), yet they know her entire story. This didn't seem particularly fair to me. I also had an issue with the passing of time. I wasn't aware of how old Jameela was, or how much time had passed. Everything seemed to happen rather suddenly, the book seemed to be on fast-forward.
I was torn over how I felt about Jameela. At first I was annoyed by how religious and judgmental she seemed. But then I stepped back and tried to see life through her infamous-porani (a type of shawl that covers the head, Jameela chews on her porani when she gets nervous and she uses it to hide her cleft lip). If I had grown up in a small village and all I'd ever known was a more conservative (but not EXTREME. That distinction is important) version of Islam, I would have been just as shocked by Kabul as Jameela was. Once in Kabul, Jameela's father seems to change, doing things that are frowned upon in Islam. He gets drunk, ignores her completely and finally abandons her at a busy marketplace. From there with the help of kind strangers, Jameela goes to the orphanage and things seem to be looking up from her. Not many of the girls at the orphanage wear a porani but Jameela continues to wear it, not only because how she was raised, but because she wants to hide her cleft lip. Just when I grew tired of Jameela being SO Good (just because I understood it didn't mean I liked reading about it), she shows that she's not an angel, but a saint/human. She looks down on this little girl, Arwa because she is so dirty and clingy. It's sad to see sweet Jameela act so cruelly towards tiny Arwa, but as it becomes clear why Jameela acts this way, my heart went out to both Arwa AND Jameela.
Wanting Mor just is. As in, there's nothing I hated about this book, but there wasn't anything I loved about it either. My heart went out to Jameela, especially when her father begins acting so cruelly towards her and not following the ways of Islam (one of the worst experience in the world can be discovering that your parents make mistakes and this indeed turns out to be rather traumatic for Jameela). She faces one hardship after another and yet she always manages to keep her chin up, to forgive and be good. I wish the story had slowed down a bit more, infused with more details so that it didn't seem to go by so fast, leaving me feeling as though I'd missed something. At times, Jameela can be hard to relate to because she is so good, but she does have a few moments in which she falters and those help remind the reader that she's human. I just wish those moments had occurred more often because I closed this book feeling a sense of awe for Jameela combined with coldness, because she seemed so distant.
Disclosure: Overdue from the library ;)
PS If you celebrate Christmas, Happy Christmas! If you don't, have a spectacular holiday season/break!