From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–In 2001, while a French journalist was visiting remote Ningxia province in northwest China, a Muslim woman wearing the white headscarf of the Hui people thrust the diaries of her daughter into his hands. The three small notebooks described the girl's struggle to get an education despite extreme poverty. Each week Ma Yan and her younger brothers walked seven miles to school where they stayed until Friday night when they returned home. Often their only food was a small bowl of rice at midday. Only occasionally did they have a bit of money to buy some vegetables in the market or to catch a tractor ride home for the weekend. Ma Yan studied hard, but she did not feel successful unless she was number one in her class. When she didn't rank first, she was berated by her mother and made to feel guilty for her lack of effort. Her parents worked constantly to make a better life for their children, farming their own fields, harvesting crops for others, and collecting the plant fa cai
from the steppes north of their home. The girl's feelings for her mother were powerful and complex, and she alternated between overwhelming love and rage at the injustices she suffered. While this book will not hold the interest of average readers because of its overly didactic tone, it does paint a vivid portrait of the daily life of a child in a part of the world seldom visited.–Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
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Gr. 6-9. "I want to go to school, Mother. . . . How wonderful it would be if I could go to school forever!" Thirteen-year-old Ma Yan, a peasant in the drought-scarred province of Ningxia, China, evidently scrawled this message in frustration at having to work in the fields. According to a preface, Ma Yan's mother passed her daughter's plea to visiting French journalist Haski, along with journals documenting about nine months of Ma Yan's life. Haski published them in France and established a charity to assist similarly impoverished Ningxia students, to which Ma Yan has since promised 25 percent of her royalties. Some adults may be troubled by the diary's odd provenance and the purposeful annotations framing Ma Yan's rather meandering reflections. Nonetheless, the affecting story, extended with photos of Ma Yan and her family, will push readers to a new understanding of the hardscrabble existence endured by many, even as her brooding reflections ("My moods go up and down") underscore how much teens everywhere have in common. Some captions and photos not seen. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved