Beneath My Mother's Feet

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
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Pakistani teen resists arranged marriage in riveting read.

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age 12+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Other than 10-year-old boy, 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're told; her marriage at age 14 to 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 former 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, cuffs another young servant on the head.

Sex

A brief reference to mothers wanting to marry their daughters early to protect their innocence.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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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Teen, 15 years old Written byMangoJuice October 16, 2018

Eye-Opening, Tragic, Wonderful Enthralling Story

I absolutely loved this book! It really gave me an idea of what it would be like to live as a 14 year old girl in Pakistan. I loved learning about the culture,... Continue reading

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? 

Book details

  • Author: Amjed Qamar
  • Genre: Coming of Age
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Atheneum
  • Publication date: June 17, 2008
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 12
  • Number of pages: 202
  • Last updated: April 23, 2021

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales and Asian stories

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