''The Breadwinner'' is a children's novel by Deborah Ellis. The title refers to the role of the protagonist, 11-year-old Parvana, who is forced by circumstances to be the breadwinner for her family in a war-torn Taliban-era in Afghanistan.
At the start of the book, Parvana is living in a one-room apartment with her family that consists of her father, her mother Fatana, older sister Nooria, younger sister Maryam, and baby brother Ali in Kabul, Afghanistan. She had an older brother named Hossain but he was killed stepping on a land mine during the war. Her father is the only one who has the right to work in the family but he has a very hard time doing so because of a leg that was injured in a bombing. He also suffers from a severe cough, which developed after the school he was teaching in was bombed. Parvana accompanies her father to the Marketplace where he works each day, reading and writing letters as due to the war and Taliban control, many people are illiterate, and need assistance reading and writing.
One day Talibs come to Parvana's home and take her father away because he attended university in England. When Parvana goes out to buy food for the family, a Talib sees her and chases her. She runs a family friend named Mrs. Weera, a former physical education teacher, and her baby grandson, and two come to stay with Parvana's family. Mrs. Weera takes charge of the household because Parvana's mother has become severely depressed over the loss of her husband, and comes up with the idea for Parvana to dress as a boy in order to earn money for the family. She then becomes the family's breadwinner, wearing her dead brother Hossain's clothes.
Parvana runs into girl that she used to go to school with named Shauzia who has been put through the same experience. They start to work together and soon become close friends, though they hadn't been close in school. With the help of Mrs. Weera, Parvana's mother begins to feel better and eventually teams up with her and a group of other women to write the Afghanistan National Magazine, smuggling it to and from Pakistan to be published. Throughout the book Parvana grows closer to her older sister Nooria, and becomes more responsible and stronger emotionally as a person. She also becomes very close with a woman who appears in the window of a building behind where Parvana works. This woman throws small gifts onto her blanket while she is there.
The climax of the story comes when Parvana's seventeen year old sister Nooria announces that she is leaving for Mazar-e Sharif to get married to a boy (an neighbor), because there is no war and she will be going to college. She leaves along with her mother and younger siblings, but Parvana stays since she looks like a boy and her appearance will be difficult to explain and be kept secret. Despite being against it at first, Parvana grows to accept her sister's decision.
Parvana remains in Kabul with Mrs. Weera. One day after work, she meets a runaway girl from Mazar who is deeply upset. Parvana leads her home at night, and soon the girl, named Homa, tells them that Mazar has been captured by the Taliban. Homa's family had been killed by the Taliban, and she had been extremely lucky to run away. Mrs. Weera gladly takes her in. Parvana is very worried since the rest of her family is going there.
One day, Parvana's father returns home, being led by two kind men who found him released from jail, but unable to get home due to the loss of his leg. The women and Parvana nurse him back to health, and the novel ends with Parvana and her father escaping Afghanistan, hidden in the back of a truck. They will search for their family in refugee camps. Shauzia, who had been planning to run away from her difficult family so that she would not have to marry and could start a new life, tells Parvana that she will be leaving with some shepherds. They plan to meet in France twenty years later, at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
!!The book contains examples of:
* TheGloriousWarOfSisterlyRivalry: Parvana is not as pretty as her older sister Nooria, and in the beginning of the book, they don't get along very well.
* SweetPollyOliver /WholesomeCrossdresser: Parvana and Shauzia dress as boys in order to earn money for their families, since the Taliban did not allow women to work outside the home.