I received a DRC of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
I Am Here Now is a novel-in-verse, taking place in 1960-1961. The main character Maisie lives with her parents, but her mom is terribly abusive. She finds friendship with the boy across the way whose father is terribly abusive. As Maisie enters high school, she becomes friend with a girl named Rachel whose mother is an artist. Maisie quickly finds refuge in spending time with Rachel and Rachel’s mother Kiki. However, that refuge always ends as soon as Maisie goes back home.
This book is brutal. The abuse that Maisie experiences is horrific, and her father and her grandmother often ignore how bad it gets at time. Throughout the book, Maisie attempts to find hope through art and through relationships, trying to find something that will love her back when no one else does.
After reading the author’s note, I found out that this is a semi-biographical work of fiction, and because of that, I find it especially hard to critique this as a novel, to separate the author’s own experiences from the work of fiction.
That said, I had two main issues with this book from the fiction standpoint:
-The book is set in 1960-1961. However, unlike some historical fiction works, there is not a great deal of historical world building. Had the book not explicitly told me the time period it was set in, I wouldn’t have known. After reading the author’s note, it makes sense why it was set in this time period: that was the time that the author was a teen. However, as a work of fiction, it was hard to remain in the 1960s throughout this.
-Lack of hope. Although Maisie finds refuge within art, for most of the book, hope is sorely lacking. As a memoir, lack of hope makes sense; after all, depending on how much of this is autobiographical, there likely realistically was not much hope. However, the book summary said the world Maisie catches a glimpse of is full of life, creativity, and love. However, Maisie frequently has issues with Rachel and Kiki as well as the two male relationships in this book. None of the love that she experiences in the book is actual love. From a memoir perspective, again, this makes sense. However, for being a YA fiction work, the lack of hope until the final 50 pages concerned me a great deal.
However, if you like novels-in-verse and can handle tough subject matter, I would still recommend checking this out. While brutal, it is a quicker read, and it will leave you thinking. If you come into it with the lens of “this is semi-autobiographical,” you will have a better experience as a reader.
I Am Here Now releases Tuesday, August 4.