This memoir follows the journey of Nujood Ali, a young, Yemeni child bride from a rural village. She was later named Glamour's Woman of the Year in 2008. 

The memoir begins with Nujood’s escape from her husband’s house and how she made her way—alone—to a courthouse in the country’s capital where she was determined to win a divorce.

Nujood’s father pulled her of school when she was in the second grade and forced her to marry a man much older than she. At this time, the minimum legal age of marriage for girls was 15, but many families—especially in rural areas—continued to engage in marrying off daughters much younger than this. Nujood’s father’s reasoning (which echoes the reasoning of many others who engage in this practice) included having one less child to feed, preventing Nujood from being raped by strangers, and protecting her from becoming the victim of “evil rumors.” (p. 54) 

In a practice common in Yemen, her father moreover stipulated that Nujood’s husband would not have sex with her until she had begun to menstruate; the husband did not wait and instead raped Nujood after they were wed. 

Throughout the book, Ali and French journalist Delphine Minoui skillfully explain how women are not given choices in Nujood's part of Yemen: 

“In Khardji, the village where I [Nujood] was born, women are not taught how to make choices. When she was about sixteen, Shoya, my mother, married my father, Ali Mohammad al-Ahdel, without a word of protest. And when he decided four years later to enlarge his family by choosing a second wife, my mother obediently accepted his decision. It was with that same resignation that I at first agreed to my marriage, without realizing what was at stake. At my age, you don’t ask yourself many questions.”
(p. 23)

Ali was connected with her lawyer, Shada Nasser, at the courthouse, and her case garnered both international attention and outrage. After a hearing, Ali was granted her divorce and took trips out of Yemen, including to the United States, even meeting with then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The memoir ends on a happy note, with Nujood starting her education again, at a new school, and definitively deciding to become a lawyer who is committed to raising the legal age of marriage in Yemen. The authors even discuss two cases of girls who were granted divorces in Yemen after Nujood and were able to use her case as legal precedence. 

An article in the Huffington Post explains that while Nujood’s memoir ends on a happy and inspiring note, there is still much more work to be done. It points out that Nujood insisted on remaining in Yemen, while her American advocates believed it would be best for her and her future to remove her from her family. Nujood’s family put pressure on her to demand more and more financial compensation for her international fame. Even though her co-author and other advocates begged her to go to school, she did not complete her education. Her father used a (likely large) portion of her book proceedings to marry a third wife. The most recent update is that Nujood remarried (circumstances and consent unclear) and mothered two daughters of her own.


In many cultures, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, the notion of “honor” is perhaps the most important quality of a girl or woman. Interestingly, honor is often not attributed to a girl or woman herself, but rather ascribed to the men to whom she is related, such as her father or husband. This is delineated in an exchange between Nujood and her mother. In justifying why Nujood must wear a niqab (a garment that covers a woman’s entire body, except her eyes, in some renditions) after she is married, her mother says, “Your face must be seen by no one but your husband. Because it is his sharaf, his honor, that is at stake. And you must not disgrace it.” (p. 63)  This passage also portrays the way in which girls and women, such as Nujood, are systematically stripped of rights and disempowered at every turn, yet they are solely responsible for the burden of maintaining the honor of the men in their lives. Why is honor not the responsibility of the men, since they are the ones who are equipped with rights, education, and mobility in this society? Should they not be the ones to be responsible for this burden?

Many societies—including Western ones—cast women as the weaker gender. However, throughout this book, it is clear that girls and women are strong. It is this young girl who could not even read or write anything past her name that fought and won a divorce in a conservative, traditional Muslim country. There are many scenes where Nujood’s older sisters protect her and take care of the family. There are just as many scenes of ineptitude on behalf of Nujood’s father and her brothers, who despite being empowered by their society, repeatedly fail to provide enough food, shelter, and money for the large family. Further, it is clear that despite empowerment, the men also lack insight, for Nujood’s father—like many men in polygamous societies—takes a second wife and continues to father ever more children despite being unable to provide for his “first” family. This memoir calls into question what exactly it is that fosters good judgment, resourcefulness, and insightfulness. Initially, I thought that experience seeing the world would allow one to grasp these traits. By this logic, Nujood’s father and other male relatives should have had more of these characteristics. However, it was the girls and women throughout this memoir that demonstrated these traits. Perhaps it is desperation or the fact that these women had to watch their lives happen to them as outsiders that unleashed a desire to own their lives, their bodies, and their fates. Perhaps there is something about being stripped of what makes one human that pushes the strongest of us to fight in ways we did not know we could to re-establish claim to our own selves. 

While the publisher of the book could not, in 2010, predict the rest of Nujood’s life, the memoir itself provides a naïve outlook on how a culture such as Nujood’s could be adjusted to honor her rights as a child, as a girl, and as a woman. It gives the impression that Western outrage and money has the ability to change the course of a life for the better. Of course, this may sometimes be true, but this was not the case with Nujood. She was granted her divorce, that is true, but did her life actually become better when one incorporates the updates on her life? I would argue that the answer to this is “No.” Nujood’s divorce eliminated only one aspect of the misogyny that her culture perpetuated: it eliminated her status as a child bride. As is often the case, however, different strands of misogyny popped up in her life, such as her father stealing much of her money and using it to propagate even more misogyny onto a third wife.

There is often a “zoomed-in” view onto the status of women in patriarchal and misogynistic society. The West tends to see problems individually: child marriage, female genital mutilation, maternal mortality rather than a “zoomed-out” view, wherein the problem becomes misogyny as a whole. All of the other issues are merely outgrowths of that misogyny. The key of fixing all of these individual problems is rolling back the culture that does not value girlhood and womanhood and ascribe to them basic human rights. To start with the problem, such as child marriage, and try to work backwards has proven time and again to be unsuccessful. One must work forward: start with misogyny and work to create a culture of welcoming and celebrating girls and women. All the rest will follow as a matter of course. 


Broadway Books, Inc.

Place Published

New York

Page Count