“I see them but they don’t see me…. Children should be heard….but when I speak they don’t listen”
This line from the book I Am by the author Nia Thandapani is just an example of the powerful and thought-provoking expressions this book gifts its readers, peppered with simple sentences that are open to multiple interpretations.
As I glanced at the closed book, a wave of nostalgia hit me. It reminded me of the brown covered notebooks we used to have in school, with a name tag, that was always carefully filled out with our best handwriting. But instead of the name tag, are the words, “I Am”, and the drab brown cover in my memories had been replaced by a bright purple and yellow. As you begin to flip through the pages of the book, the colours become more striking, and the pages sometimes oscillate between a cacophony of words and colours to a single phrase written across two pages. The book is a mere 30 pages, and gives you the impression of a graphic novel that can be easily skimmed through, but trust me it will keep you pondering for hours, while you fight the urge to make everyone drop their work to interpret it with you.
as you read and re-read each page, a new story, An idea, a worldview reveals itself.
The book at the surface appears to trace notions of selfhood and identity from the perspective of a child, while making a powerful statement about how children (people?) often have little agency in defining that what should be solely theirs: their own selves. But then again, this appeared to be my first impression of the book. The beauty of the book lies in the layers of meaning it holds in each of its colourful and sparsely worded pages. What may be evident to you as the essence of the book, maybe a revelation for someone else, and as you read and re-read each page, a new story, an idea, a worldview reveals itself.
A powerful page for me was the page that displayed people protesting against the ‘others’ defining the child, while ironically defining the child in the process. This spoke volumes to me about the ugly side of activism and the politics of privilege as we occupy the right to define the experiences of people we don’t know and whose lives we will never be able to fathom. But this political interpretation was also in many ways a reflection of my personal journey, as someone who works in the social sector. In this way, the book is at once both political as well as deeply personal.
To its readers, this book will similarly trigger personal memories and reveal political interpretations that will make this book an exercise in self-awareness. It will simultaneously make us read through the eyes of the child being defined, while catching ourselves identifying with the people who impose the definitions. But identity and selfhood scratch only the surface, as the book introduces a different concept in each page, depending upon your interpretation of it.
But identity and selfhood scratch only the surface, as the book introduces a different concept in each page, depending upon your interpretation of it.
To me, the book speaks about democracy, politics, competition on one hand, while revealing the alienation of social media and the ways we undermine our children on the other. As you go through the book yourself, it will reveal more layers of meaning to you, and different kind to others, making this a book an excellent choice for a book club or even a classroom. The most extraordinary thing about this book, however, it expresses so much in so little, reminding us that sometimes the most profound ideas can be communicated in the simplest of ways.
To many, this book review might seem a bit vague. After all most book reviews include a summary or a storyline at least? That’s because most books seem to have a singular story, but ‘I AM’ packs too many stories in itself to be captured in a few lines. So much of the book is about personal interpretation and experience, that it would be a waste to even begin to describe it. Instead, I would highly recommend people to read it, and even though this book falls under the purview of ‘young readers’, it will resonate with readers across ages.
Also read: Book Review: Waiting By Nighat Gandhi
Most importantly, discuss this book with a loved one, including the children in your life, because it would open up avenues of communication and understanding that will be fulfilling and exciting. Lastly, while reading this book we must keep in mind that everything need not be said, sometimes it becomes important to read between the lines.