Review: I Am Here Now

I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Rachel Fremmer

In I Am Here Now, Barbara Bottner uses free verse to tell the story of Maisie’s first two or so years of high school while dealing with an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive mother. Maisie loves to draw and paint and her friend Rachel’s mother, an artist, takes her under her wing. Maisie develops as an artist but has to learn the painful truth that her surrogate mother is not perfect either.

Maisie also struggles with simultaneously resenting and trying to protect her younger brother, whom everyone knows is gay without ever saying as much And like many a teenage girl, she contends with her changing body, a crush, and the complexities of female friendship.

I Am Here Now is set in the Bronx in 1961 and I wish a little more attention had been given to that time and place. Maisie does speak repeatedly of longing to leave the Bronx but it’s not exactly clear why, other than its association with her family.

We learn that Maisie is Jewish just a few pages into the book, when she mentions that she keeps a list of Jewish celebrities. Her Judaism comes up from time to time, as does her Hungarian heritage, but it never really seems central to Maisie’s identity.

I Am Here Now sheds light on the often-taboo topic of domestic abuse and mental illness within the Jewish community and is an important book in that regard. The book is beautifully written and I believe has sufficient Jewish content to make it a strong possibility for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband two daughters, ages 15 and 12, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.