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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beneath My Mother's Feet, by Amjed Qamar, addresses class differences and the treatment of women in Pakistan, including arranged marriages and girls' limited opportunities for education. Nazia's mother tells her, "All you can hope for is to get married to a good man and pray that he treats you well. That is your fate." Men are presented as lying, lazy, thieving scoundrels; women hold families together. Violence includes Nazia's father hitting Nazia and her mother once. Their employer slaps Nazia in the face and cuffs another young servant on the head.
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What's the story?
In BENEATH MY MOTHER'S FEET, set in Pakistan, 14-year-old Nazia is an obedient daughter who helps her mother with her two younger siblings. In this culture, girls defer to their mothers and then their mothers-in-law "in all matters, from clothing to decorating." After Nazia's father is injured, her mother pulls her out of school to work as a maid. This lowly job and the theft of her dowry jeopardize Nazia's impending arranged marriage to her much older cousin. Nazia struggles to support her family, facing life as a servant or as an unwilling wife. Against her mother's advice, Nazia befriends and assists another servant trying to escape his situation. As she discovers her inner resolve, can she find a way to help her family without sacrificing herself?
Is it any good?
Despite its heavy topics, this is a fast, compelling read. Nazia's good heart and spirit balance her many legitimate complaints about the unfairness of her circumstances. The lush details of smells, foods, and clothing in Beneath My Mother's Feet transport readers to this fascinating place, but young readers may struggle to understand how children "all follow whatever path our mothers have laid out for us. ... Nobody cares if you're happy."
The author, who lived in Pakistan for several years, offers a realistic -- if bleak -- picture of poverty and oppression, with Nazia's mother willing to beg for a place for her children to stay after they lose their home. Younger readers might need additional explanations for several cultural references, such as the dowry. With its strong family relationships, interesting cultural details, and girl-empowerment theme, this would make a great pick for a mother-daughter book club. The tantalizing dishes mentioned (from naan to curry to spiced rice) and a bounty of discussion topics (friendship, duty, women's rights) leave plenty to chew on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cultural expectations for women in Pakistan shown in Beneath My Mother's Feet. One character says, "A woman without a husband is a woman less than worthless." How does that attitude affect Nazia's mother and her hopes for Nazia?
What do you think about arranged marriages?
Did you know that education for girls is not universal around the world? Why would a government or society want to keep girls from going to school?
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