Their Struggles: Bristol Palin & Malala Yousafzai's Memoirs, Compared

Two bright young women dominated headlines late last week. On the same day that Malala Yousafzai, 17, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Bristol Palin, 23, was cited in an Alaska police report for getting drunk at a party and punching her host “multiple times.”

Bristol Palin’s “heavily intoxicated” behavior had already prompted her famous mother to release a statement describing her daughter as “one of the strongest young women you’ll ever meet.” Sarah Palin went on to praise Bristol’s “work ethic and heart for those less fortunate.”

Sounds like the Nobel Committee gave that Peace Prize to the wrong gal.

A look at their bestselling books, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far (2011) and I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013), reveals a great deal of overlap, including how they both overcame adversity and barely made it out of high school alive.

Perhaps this side-by-side comparison will prompt Nobel consideration for young Palin next year. After all, it’s called American Exceptionalism—not Pakistani Exceptionalism.


Age became famous
17 15
Name derivation Named after Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN where her mother hoped to be a sportscaster. Named after Malalai of Maiwand, the greatest heroine of Afghanistan.
Accused of being… A "slut." A "secularist."

The beauty of home
Wasilla is…surrounded by mountain ranges so no matter where you go, you feel protected…cradled almost…by these majestic formations. We lived in the most beautiful place in the world. My valley, the Swat Valley is a heavenly kingdom of mountains, gushing waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.

Targeted by…
The "lamestream media" and late night comedians. The Taliban.
Early moment of despair
First day Freshman year of high school, she wore the exact same button-up cardigan as a friend (but in a different color so technically not the exact same.) In 2009, family became Internally Displaced Persons. After being harassed at an army checkpoint, My grandmother started crying and saying her life had never been so bad."
Mother willing to be photographed with the Duck Dynasty clan?

No. (Actually refuses to be photographed with anyone except on rare occasions.)
Father’s Dream Achieved
Todd Palin: four time winner of the Tesoro Iron Dog, the "world’s longest toughest snowmobile race." Ziauddin Yousafzai: an educator who founded the Khushal Public Schools, believing that "ignorance is the root of all of Pakistan’s problems."
Villains Levi Johnston, Uncle Mike (state trooper) Meghan McCain General Musharraf, Radio Mullah (aka Fazlullah)

Came in third on Dancing with the Stars (2010) Pakistan’s first ever National Peace Prize (2011), youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2014)
Used prize money to…
Buy an "investment home in Arizona!" Start an education foundation, the Malala Fund.
On being fearless On Monday I was to perform the quickstep, and I was a little nervous…When I went out there, I had no fear. And guess what? I nailed it. The girls of Swat are not afraid of anyone. We have continued with our education
Trauma-induced amnesia
What I don’t remember is what transpired between the moment when I was sitting there by the fire talking [with Levi] and the moment I awakened the next morning with something obviously askew. I remember the bus turned right off the main road at the army checkpoint as always and rounded the corner past the deserted cricket ground. I don’t remember any more.
Dangerous encounters Of course, I thought I was headed into an evening of harmless high school fun. But really, I was headed into the deep quicksand of sexual sin… My friends say he fired three shots, one after another. The first went through my eye socket and out under my left shoulder.
Response to being hungover/shot in the head Mosquitoes were buzzing around my ears and my head throbbed like someone was using it as a drum. The sounds in my head were not the crack, crack, crack of three bullets, but the chop, chop, chop, drip, drip, drip of the man severing heads of chickens, and then dropping into the dirty street, one by one.
Moment of feeling abandoned
Instead of waking up in his arms…I was awakened in a cold tent alone as he talked with his friends on the other side of the canvas. I woke up on 16 October, a week after the shooting. I was thousands of miles away from my home… Where was I? Who had brought me here? Where were my parents? Was my father alive? I was terrified.
Controlling feelings of anger and revenge
[host] Korey Klingenmeyer told Anchorage police that when Bristol was asked to leave the party, "she began to get angry with him and began yelling at him" before "punching him in the face repeatedly, using both hands." I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.

Treasured accessory
A purity ring: just a simple symbol of what I already knew: I was going to remain pure throughout my high school years. Two shawls from Benazir Bhutto’s children that belonged to their late mother: Later I found a long black hair on one of them, which made it even more special.
Distinguished acquaintance
Met Vince Vaughan at a hockey game: It was so cool to meet him! Met Richard Holbrooke, American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan and said: Respected Ambassador, I request you, please help us girls to get an education.
Faith God’s forgiveness is frankly a very good deal… He only sees me for who I am in Jesus (redeemed, forgiven and pure.) I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him every day. He is the greatest.

Still angry about…
Levi selling photos of newborn son to People magazine for only $5,000 when he could’ve gotten six figures Drone strikes

• Lying to her mother
• Losing virginity
• Staying with Levi
Not having a chance to speak to the gunman so she could tell him: I even want education for your children as well
Message to the world I simply wanted to tell American teenagers that saving sex for marriage was the only way to be 100 percent certain that you won’t get pregnant. That’s all. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.
Future plans Dropped out of community college: While I don’t know what the future holds, I do know I’ve made a decision not to have sex again until I’m married. College. Once wanted to be a doctor, now wants to be a politician, "a good politician. Already won Nobel Peace Prize.

Last line of book
Who knows? You might even end up in a gorilla suit of your own. I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.

All quotes cited from memoirs or appearance on The Daily Show (Malala only) or police reports (Bristol only.)

Photos via Getty.

Nell Scovell is currently writing the movie version of Lean In for Sony Pictures.

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