It is April 2012, and Malala is on a school trip to Marghazar, a green valley near Mingora. Malala walks with her friend Moniba. They walk near a tranquil river, and playfully splash each other with water. Malala compliments Moniba for her beautiful skin.
Although Pakistan is in a state of disarray, Malala and her friends continue to enjoy any moments when they can relax and just be kids. These are also important for us as readers, as reminders that our narrator is still a young teenager.
The day after her field trip, Malala has a disturbing talk with her father. Ziauddin has found an anonymous note, addressed to “Muslim brothers.” The note—one of many that have been circulated recently—criticizes Ziauddin’s schools for being “vulgar” and “obscene.” It singles out the field trip to the Marghazar as an example of the school’s obscenity. The note concludes by urging people to “ask the manager of the White Palace Hotel” for more information about “what these girls did.” Ziauddin realizes that the manager has no information about the girls whatsoever—the note is a bluff, designed to make its readers assume the worst of Malala and her classmates.
Again we see the deviousness and trickery of the Taliban. Instead of telling the truth about the girls at Malala’s school, the Taliban are forced to make up lies about them and rely on the power of suggestion. This is a sign of the pettiness and cruelty at the heart of the Taliban—they’re so desperate for power that they’re reduced to writing nasty notes. Malala, meanwhile, is gaining her own power and influence, collecting awards and using them to improve the school system.
In the days following the circulation of the anonymous notes, Malala’s classmates are terrified to attend school. Ziauddin makes a brave speech in which he encourages them to continue with their studies—nevertheless, Malala can tell that he’s secretly afraid of Taliban attacks himself.
As Malala grows up, Ziauddin remains her role model, but he ceases to be an idol. While he’s still a highly impressive man, he’s hardly infallible—here, for instance, Malala is able to recognize, fairly easily, that he’s frightened.
As the year goes on, the school’s attendance shrinks. Ziauddin continues to organize activities for his remaining students: debating competitions, painting projects, etc. Malala turns 14 in July—meaning that, at least according to Islamic tradition, she’s an adult. On August 3, Ziauddin receives a call from a journalist named Mehboob. Mehboob is the nephew of Ziauddin’s old friend, Zahid Khan, who was attacked by the Taliban in 2009. Mehboob tells Ziauddin that Zahid has been shot by the Taliban, but is miraculously still alive. Ziauddin is moved by the news of the attack on his old friend’s life. He’s also frightened, as the attack reminds Ziauddin that the Taliban want to kill him, as well as Zahid Khan. In the following weeks, Zahid Khan slowly recovers in a hospital. After he’s released, he bravely continues to denounce the Taliban, refusing to let them intimidate him into silence.
Here, after hundreds of pages, we begin to approach the place where the book started. We’ve been given signs throughout the book that the Taliban hurt those who disagree with them, and try to intimidate their enemies into silence. Now that Malala has become one of the most prominent opponents of the Taliban in the entire country (and now that she’s legally an adult) she’s an obvious target for the Taliban—so obvious, indeed, that we wonder why Malala didn’t realize this sooner. Presumably, she counted on the Taliban respecting women and children—in retrospect, a dubious thing to count on.
A boy named Haroon—a year older than Malala—greets Malala one day and tells her that he loves her. Malala tells Ziauddin about Haroon, and Ziauddin becomes very angry. He calls Haroon’s father, and warns Haroon to stay away from Malala.
In a moment of bathos—the sudden transition from “high” content to “low” content—we shift from matters of life and death to a silly discussion of a boy who had a crush on Malala.