Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 to a Pashtun family in Swat Valley, Pakistan. She grew up in and around school, as her father's lifelong dream had been to found a school; thus, Malala valued education from an extremely young age. Two brothers followed her: one, Kushal, is two years younger than she is, and the other, Atal, is seven years younger than she is.
Life in Mingora, Swat's largest city, was easy for the first part of Malala's childhood. The family had little money at first, but as her father’s school began to do well, they were better off. In school, Malala was always at the top of the class, contested only by her best friend, Moniba, and her rival, Malka-e-Noor. Pakistan began to change after the 9/11 attacks happened. Power continuously shifted, as did the nation's international reputation. One autumn, an earthquake devastated Swat Valley, leaving its people suffering and vulnerable and eager for some sort of leadership.
When Malala was ten years old, the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group seeking to implement its brutal version of sharia law in the region, came to Swat Valley. It was led by a man named Fazlullah, who at first appealed to many people because of his charisma and rationality. The Taliban began to implement many strict rules: CDs, DVDs, and TVs were not allowed in the home, women must remain in purdah, and girls could not be educated. For Malala, this last rule was unacceptable. She and her father began to speak out strongly and publicly against Talibanization. Malala even began to write a diary about life as a girl under the Taliban, using a pseudonym so it could not be traced to her.
At last the Pakistani army said that they had struck a deal with the Taliban to institute sharia law in Swat in return for peace, but unfortunately this peace did not last. The situation got so bad that scores of people left Swat Valley, fleeing the Taliban—Malala's family tried to stay for as long as they could, but eventually they left as well. They became IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), living outside of Swat for three months before they were able to return when the army announced that the Taliban had allegedly been driven out of the valley.
Once she returned to Swat, Malala began to gain more national and international fame for being an advocate for girls' education. Similarly, her father continued to speak out loudly. Pakistan was shaken up when the United States Navy SEALS conducted a raid on a compound in Abottabad, where Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, had apparently been hiding out for years. Meanwhile, signs showed that the Taliban had never really left Swat Valley, and Malala's father continued to fear that he would be targeted. Then one day when Malala was on the bus home from school, a strange man pulled the bus over, asked for Malala by name, and shot her in the face.
Malala was taken to an army hospital in Peshawar and given an operation that gave her brain space to swell where the bullet hit it. Everyone prayed that she would survive, but they were unsure. A pair of British doctors came from Rawalpindi to assess her and the hospital, and determined that she had to be moved if she was to survive. First they moved her to a high-security army hospital in Rawalpindi, but then she was moved abroad to Birmingham, UK, where she was treated more extensively. Her family followed her ten days later; they did not return to Pakistan, instead settling in an apartment and then a house in Birmingham. In the aftermath of her shooting, Malala became an international sensation, using her newfound fame to speak out on a larger stage for girls' education.