Obayda’s family moved to a rural village after a Kabul bomb blast took her father’s leg and the family’s livelihood; in a bid to attract good fortune, relatives persuade her mother to transform Obayda, 10, youngest of four daughters, into a bacha posh: a boy.
Her mother adopts this traditional, underground practice reluctantly. Obayda’s apprehensive but wants to help: her father was injured getting her medicine. Transformed by a haircut, boy attire, and new name—Obayd—she joins the boys’ class at school. After a rocky start, she makes friends and discovers the joys of wearing pants; exempted from chores, she plays and climbs trees. Catapulted from youngest daughter to only son, she’s served meat while her sisters get sauce and vegetables. Freedom’s intoxicating, but at puberty she’ll become a girl again—this time for good. Rahima, the central character of the Afghan-American author’s similarly themed novel for adults, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell (2014), returns here. Given vast inequities between the sexes, bacha posh (variants exist elsewhere, too) injects cultural flexibility. Yet despite its utility (a pre-pubescent son can work, helping to support the family; a girl cannot), bacha posh may leave psychological and emotional scars, issues Hashimi touches on gently.
Well-told through appealing characters, this tale sheds light from a unique cultural perspective on the link between vastly different, rigidly enforced roles for boys and girls and gender-identity issues. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)