Author Patricia McCormick collaborated with Malala Yosafzai to write the young reader’s edition of “I am Malala.”
By Gianna Volpe
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai first began to receive books written by young adult author Patricia McCormick while the Pakistani teenager was recovering after she’d been shot in the head in October 2012 by a member of the Taliban, who boarded her school bus and tried to assassinate her for championing girls’ rights to education.
Following the release of her internationally best-selling memoir, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” Ms. Yousafzai ultimately collaborated with Ms. McCormick—the critically-acclaimed author of such novels as “Never Fall Down,” “Purple Heart,” “Sold,” “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Cut”—to create a young reader’s edition that would make her memoir more accessible to her peers.
“Because of the types of books Patricia writes, it was a natural fit,” said Kim Zettwoch, young adult librarian at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. “She has this finesse for writing young adult books and can deal with this type of subject matter in a way that teens can get into it and get something out of it.”
This Saturday at 2 p.m., Ms. McCormick will speak at the library and sign copies of “I Am Malala,” which will be sold at the event.
Ms. McCormick “was so humble, saying, ‘I’m not Malala. I don’t know who will really be interested,” Ms. Zettwoch said of the response when she asked Ms. McCormick to appear at the library. “We had another young adult author here in the spring, so we’re going to continue to try to have young adult authors come here to speak.”
For Ms. McCormick, these type of events offer her the most rewarding experiences as a writer. “Whenever I give a speech, there’s always one girl who comes up and says, ‘You told my story’ and it’s so gratifying—I cry every time,” the author said. “When you’re writing, you’re lonely; you’re all by yourself, so you have no idea how your work is going to affect somebody…. you touch people you’ll never know.”
She said these type of experiences are common for someone who writes for developing minds.
“Young adult readers are terrific,” said Ms. McCormick. “They don’t put up with phonies, and they don’t put up with long, unnecessary passages, but if they connect with you, they read very deeply into the books.”
Ms. McCormick’s collaboration with Ms. Yousafzai is the author’s latest endeavor in telling stories of teenagers’ lives amid unspeakable tragedies. Her work has taken her as far as India, where she visited bordellos involved in child trafficking for her novel, “Sold,” which was recently adapted into a film that is being shown at national and international film festivals. ?“I had a sense that it was not an issue that was well or widely understood,” Ms. McCormick said. “There had been some journalism about it, but nobody had written about it from the girl’s point of view. So I did that and then I met this young man from Cambodia and I think that’s kinda what led to the Malala project.”
The young Cambodian man, Arn Chorn-Pond, a survivor of imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge, is the central figure in Ms. McCormick’s “Never Fall Down,” which tells the story of Cambodian genocide from the perspective of a child forced into slavery and military service after the invasion of his village.
Though he and Ms. Yousafzai are vastly different from one another, Ms. McCormick said she was struck by the commonality of their experiences.
Take Malala Yousafzai, for example. “She is exactly what she appears to be. She’s really bright, she’s very principled, she’s really fearless, and she’s also a regular 17-year-old girl,” said Ms. McCormick. “She cares if she’s in a fight with her best friend, she worries about how did she do on her physics test, she wonders if her glasses look funny; she’s this amazing combination of extraordinary and regular.”
“I Am Malala” is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of a message threaded throughout Ms. McCormick’s books: To persevere in the face of adversity.
According to Ms. McCormick, though Ms. Yousafzai has been shot in the head for what she believes in, the Pakistani youth forgives her aggressors, whose actions have only strengthened her dedication to the struggle to obtain educational rights for girls in Pakistan.
“She really does forgive them and only wants them to have the benefit of the education that she had,” said Ms. McCormick. “She thinks that will change everything. There’s a line in the book that says that if she met one of the Taliban—she had gotten a death threat—and she said, ‘What will I do if I see one? Oh, I’ll hit him with my shoe,’ and then she said, ‘No, no, that would make me aggressive. I’ll just tell him that all I want is the right to go to school and for your sister or your daughter to go to school.’ She said she thought [the Taliban] would silence her but they actually gave her the biggest megaphone imaginable.”
Ms. Zettwoch said she hopes Ms. McCormick’s visit to the Hampton Library this Saturday will open the eyes of young, local readers to issues other teenagers face that they needn’t, but added Saturday’s free event is not age-restricted.
“Anyone who is interested can come,” said Ms. Zettwoch. “All are welcome and can get something out of it.”