79 pages 2 hours read

Deborah Ellis

Parvana's Journey

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2002

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Summary and Study Guide


Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis follows 13-year-old Parvana as she makes her way across war-torn Afghanistan in search of her mother and siblings. Published in 2002, this novel is a sequel to the international bestseller The Breadwinner, which was adapted as a 2017 animated film, and is the second in a series of four called The Breadwinner series. Although Parvana’s Journey is a work of fiction, Ellis bases the setting of the novel on the contemporary war in Afghanistan. Her work of children’s literature has been given several honors, including the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award Honor Book. This guide refers to the 2019 printing of the book by Groundwood Books.

Plot Summary

In the midst of the Afghanistan war, 13-year-old Parvana buries her father. She was journeying with her father from Kabul in search of her mother and siblings, and now that her father has died, she must continue her journey alone. Parvana disguises herself as a boy, since it isn’t safe to be a young girl travelling alone, especially if caught by the Taliban. On her journey, she comes to a village that has been bombed and abandoned. In one of the houses, she finds a baby still alive near the body of his dead mother. She names him Hassan and brings him with her as she continues walking. Before long, Parvana comes upon a cave inhabited by a small boy named Asif. He is missing one leg, is covered in filth, and threatens to kill Parvana if she enters the cave. However, Parvana shares her food with him and encourages him to clean up. They eventually get along, although Asif maintains a harsh attitude towards Parvana, even as they move on from the cave and continue journeying together.

On the road, Asif, Parvana, and Hassan face starvation and thirst, are tricked by a man who gives very little food in exchange for work, and eventually find themselves in a minefield, unsure of how to move forward without triggering an explosion. At this moment of desperation, a little girl named Leila comes running up to them. Leila takes them to her house where she lives with her grandmother. Leila’s mother left months ago to search for her father and brother, and since then, her grandmother has been completely silent and unresponsive. Parvana and Asif help Leila clean up the house and property where she lives, and they find a sense of purpose in improving the homestead, which they name Green Valley. All of the children find a sense of home together there, and they think of each other as family. Since they are far from any neighbors or villages, and have the minefield to deter intruders, they feel sheltered and separate from the war while at Green Valley. However, soon they start hearing bombs at night, and each night the explosions grow closer. One night, after roasting a goat that wandered into the minefield, a bomb hits Green Valley, destroying the house and property and killing Grandmother. 

With nothing left for them at Green Valley, the children must get back on the road. As they travel across the Afghan countryside with no particular destination in mind, they endure cold nights, a lack of food and water, and constant fatigue. Hassan loses interest in their attempts to make him eat and drink, and they worry he will die soon. Eventually, they begin to see other people walking, and they make their way to a camp for Internally Displaced Persons. There, they get medical attention for Hassan, but their troubles are still far from over.

The conditions at the camp are crowded and dirty, and the camp borders a minefield. Parvana waits in line each day for food and water, but sometimes supplies deplete before she reaches the front of the line. One day, a plane drops supplies and food at the camp, but many of the packages land in the minefield. Thinking she will be safe, Leila runs into the minefield, but is severely injured by a mine explosion. A crowd gathers around Parvana and Leila as the little girl dies before reaching the medical clinic, and a woman in the crowd cries out. Parvana recognizes the woman’s voice as her mother’s. Parvana is reunited with her mother and sisters, but she learns that her baby brother is dead. Alongside her family and her new brothers, Hassan and Asif, Parvana buries Leila. Although she is thankful to be with her family, Parvana knows that her journey is still not over. The war still rages, and she doesn’t know what the future may bring, but at least she will not face it alone. 

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