Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann
At the end of January, the organisation EmpathyLab launched its Reading for Empathy Booklist. Each book has been chosen to do a specific job in building up your empathy. I’ve chosen one of the 20 books in the collection for secondary schools as February’s Book of the Month. Again, it’s a verse novel. Along with poetry, I can’t seem to get enough of this style of writing at the moment. It’s direct and I’m in awe of anyone who can articulate themselves with such brevity and beauty.
Run Rebel is the story of Amber Rai, an exceptional athlete who is growing up in an Indian household in Britain. Her father is out-of-work, abusive and drinks too much. Her mother works long hours in terrible conditions and they are poor. Neither can read or write in either their mother tongue or in English, so Amber acts as their translator, looking at bills, letters and shopping lists for them. Their community is misogynistic and, like their mother, Amber and her sister are scared into submission with stories of the terrible things that happen to girls who try to be independent and pursue their education and careers. Amber is trapped by her father’s violence, the community that spies on her and her own fears. She loves to run and has the opportunity to represent her County but she will have to rebel against her father in order to do this. It is whilst studying the Art of Revolution in History that she begins to form a plan to break the cycle of her father’s abuse. Education as a means to empowerment is one of the main themes of this book.
The book is plotted well and we follow Amber’s story as she works through each of the eight stages of the anatomy of a revolution. The way the text looks on the page is interesting too. The dialogue of each character is written in a different font. On some pages, letters are highlighted to spell out hidden words which reveal the true feelings that Amber is unable to share with her friends and family.
This is a powerful read. The story obviously means a lot to the author, Manjeet Mann, who has started her own organisation called Run the World, which empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling. The author’s experiences ensure the authenticity of the characters. Amber is a complicated and flawed character. For example, the conflict she feels between her desperation to flee her father and the desperate hope he will change his ways. She also becomes the bully in order to regain some control of her life and these scenes are difficult to read.
There’s a lot to learn about ourselves here too. Amber’s PE teacher cannot understand why Amber’s parents would let her squander her talent and why Amber can’t persuade them otherwise. “You don’t even understand that rebellion is a privilege” Amber retorts.
Without giving too much away, the story has a satisfying and hopeful finale. I found the final scenes, played out between Amber, her Mum and her sister particularly moving. This book, and the others on the Read for Empathy booklist, help us to understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations and in doing so, hopefully, can make us all better people.
Recommended for Years 9, 10 and 11