Beneath My Mother's Feet

Common Sense Media says

Great mom-daughter read about a Pakistani teen.

Age(i)

2
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Other than a 10-year-old boy, there are no males with redeeming qualities in the book. Nazia's father and brother steal, lie, and desert their family. Nazia lives in a society where girls are expected to do what they are told; her marriage at age 14 to her much-older cousin was arranged when she was a young child. Nazia's mother pulls her out of school to work as a maid; later, they lose their home and must beg for shelter from their employer. As a servant, Nazia is mistreated and looked down upon by her wealthy employers and by her former social peers. One employer says, "You people spread lice faster than flies on meat." The same employer ignores Nazia's pleas when another child servant is ill. A mother sells her child into servitude, only visiting to take his earnings.

Violence

Nazia's father hits Nazia and her mother once. Their employer slaps Nazia in the face and cuffs another young servant on the head.

Sex

There is a brief reference to mothers wanting to marry their daughters early to protect their innocence.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book 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; it is women who hold families together.

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What's the story?

Living in Pakistan, 14-year-old Nazia is an obedient daughter, helping her mother with her two younger siblings. In this culture, girls defer to their mothers and then their mother-in-laws \"in all matters, from clothing to decorating.\" After her father is injured, her mother pulls Nazia 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 own inner resolve, can she find a way to help her family without sacrificing herself?

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Despite its heavy topics, BENEATH MY MOTHER'S FEET is a fast, compelling read. Nazia's good heart and spirit balance her many complaints (all legitimate) about the unfairness of her circumstances. Lush details of smells, foods, and clothing transport readers to this exotic place, but young readers may strain to comprehend a culture where 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 truthful -- 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, both literally and figuratively.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how cultural expectations for women in Pakistan and elsewhere are very different than in the United States and Canada. 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 else have you learned about women in other cultures?

Book details

Author:Amjed Qamar
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Atheneum
Publication date:June 17, 2008
Number of pages:202
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

This review of Beneath My Mother's Feet was written by

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  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
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