A simply told story about a complicated topic, Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan tells the tragic story of a young girl living during the Taliban’s reign. After both her parents go missing, Nasreen no longer speaks. It isn’t until her grandmother takes her a secret school, where girls are risking their lives in order to receive an education, that she finds her voice again. The story, narrated by Nasreen’s grandmother, is succinctly told, and many readers may find themselves wanting to know more about this incredible family. Still, the story we do see is a very special one.
According to the American Library Association, Nasreen’s Secret School was one of the top ten most challenged books in 2015. The book has been challenged in Florida, New York, and Wisconsin. It has been challenged due to its religious viewpoint, violent content, and “references to Islam”. These reasons are confusing. While the book talks about terrorists, there is hardly any depictions of violence, and the religious viewpoint isn’t the main focus of the story. Neither Nasreen nor her grandmother condone anything the Taliban does. Quite the opposite, they defy them, and this defiance is arguably the most important aspect of this book. The author’s note in the beginning of the book shows the difference in women’s status in Afghanistan before and after the Taliban. According to the book, 70% of teachers, 40% of doctors, and half of Kabul University’s students were women. Once the Taliban seized power, women’s rights were stripped. They could not go to school, leave the home without a male escort, and were forced to cover their head and body at all times. This change in status is upsetting, but also important for readers, especially young ones, to understand.
Society tends to stereotype Muslim women as repressed and submissive. We seldom speak of the Muslim women doctors, teachers, and university students there once were in Afghanistan. We don’t talk about the amazing young women who bravely attend secret schools. Malala Yousafzai is not the only woman who has stood up to the Taliban. These other women like Nasreen and her grandmother deserve to have their story told. If people continue to challenge books such as these, they assist the Taliban in their cause of silencing and repressing Muslim women. This book must not only be made available in school and public libraries, but librarians should encourage children to read it, and to learn about girls like Nasreen.