Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
By Suzanne Fisher Staples
Knofp, 1989. 240 pgs. Middle grade/Teen fiction
Eleven-year-old Shabanu lives in the deserts of Pakistan, helping her father raise camels. As her twelve-year-old sister is preparing for her arranged marriage, Shabanu is beginning to think about her own arranged marriage, which will take place the following year. Just as Shabanu has come to accept the prospect of marriage and be excited about her future husband, disaster strikes and Shabanu will have to become the fourth wife of a much-older man in order to save her family--or decided to defy them by refusing and leaving.
This book was a tough read--it's fascinating but it's also disturbing. It's difficult to stomach the fact that even in today's world there are children forced into marriages that will make them miserable, that there isn't really a way to have a realistic, happy ending in many cases. So it was hard to read the book, with Shabanu continually facing loss and disappointment and there not really being a way for her to triumph. Yes, she has a triumphant spirit, but it's hard to think of a child facing what she's facing. At the same time, I really enjoyed the look at this culture, so different from my own. It was very eye-opening, and I appreciated the fact that the author showed a very loving family, who wanted to do their best to care for each other even though the restraints of their culture and socioeconomic status forced them to make really difficult decisions.
4 stars. (There's some talk about developing bodies and crossing into womanhood, but otherwise, it's a clean read.)
As a side note, at what point does a book become "historical fiction" instead of contemporary? This book was published in 1989, and I'm not sure how to classify this one. I'd also be interested in seeing what, if any, changes have come about in Pakistan since then--maybe the designation has less to do with the actual number of years but the social, political, and cultural climate...