Firstly, I want to say a HUGE Thank-You to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this fantastic title. As soon as I saw it in the catalogue of titles to be released, I knew I needed to read it. I knew it was going to be important, not only for cultural awareness, but also for women, for girls to realise just how important and special they really are. I wasn’t let down. I so, so appreciate the opportunity to spread awareness for this novel. I want to shout it from the rooftops, if you haven’t read this book, you need to.
This review only contains one spoiler, about a graphic scene towards the end of the book, if you don’t want to be spoiled, may I suggest clicking HERE to read my spoiler free review on GoodReads.
I Am Change by Suzy Zail
Published August 1st 2019 by Black Dog
From the minute you open the cover of this book, you will be hooked, mesmerised by the sheer different world that Lilian and her family live in. Zail has written a masterpiece, inspired by women who have lived through similar situations and have found their own voices to share their stories with the world.
Suzy Zail is a master story teller, one that will have you so entranced in this tale of change that you won’t know what day or time it is, when you finish reading. Zail has a way of writing with such honesty and sincerity, that you believe every word Lilian says or writes, that you feel her emotion leaping from the page, that you live through her horrors with her. The pacing is perfect throughout the title, it flows with the soft cadence of a stream, it allows you to indulge in the lilt of the language used and fully process it as you read.
I Am Change, is the book that we needed, the book we knew we needed, but weren’t really sure when it was going to come. It is passionate, honest, raw and gritty. It will make you cry and make you laugh, make you sigh and shout in frustration. It is a conversation starter, it will make you want to talk about women’s rights, about the things that women in Western worlds take for granted and what you can do to help those who don’t have the opportunity or chances to make a better life for themselves.
I can’t imagine the pain that Lilian must suffer through for the sake of her mothers’ traditional beliefs. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the scene itself is heart-wrenchingly graphic. But In Lilian’s mother’s clan, the Sabiny, it is common practice, for the girls to be ‘cut’ when they reach a certain age. The cutting isn’t the labia, as most people are aware of, but of the clitoris. What makes this procedure so much more horrific is that most girls have no idea what is about to happen to them or why, just that it is something that they are expected to live through silently. For Lilian, it was worse again, because she knew about the process, about that part of her and she knew that she should have had a choice. That it was her body and she should have been able to have some say over it. It shows us that we are incredibly lucky to live the way that we do, with choice over our bodies and the right to say no.
“It was only the kintir. It is a stubborn thing and only gets you in trouble. It is my job to tame you” p277
But all through the pain and the psychological anguish, Lillian kept bargaining for her right to go to school. She knew it was the only way that she would ever get out of this place, away from the traditions, to stop the next generation of girls from going through what she, herself, went through.
I am so proud of Lillian for standing up for herself, especially in a culture where women are expected to do whatever their husband, father, brother, or any other male, says. She wasn’t ready to lose her virginity, to lose all of her freedom, to lose her voice, and she spoke up, unafraid of what it would cost her, because she knew, the knew that she was worth more than that.
“It was her body and she;d decide what to do with it” p292
I am Change, has me experiencing all the feminist feels, in a way that I didn’t expect. It really drives home the importance of girls and young women being educated about their bodies, how they work and why they change. About their self worth, about why it is so important to speak up if you are uncomfortable. This book is going to start so many conversations that need to be started, that needed to be started years ago.
It is one heart break after another, to be a girl, growing up in Uganda. You can’t love a boy, because love leads to kissing and kissing alone can give you a bad reputation so you aren’t worth much when you are sold for marriage. You can’t get a full education after the age of 16 because then you are too old to be worth much, when you are sold to be married. Are you picking up a common theme here? I am devastated for Lillian, again she is being ripped away from the one thing that is giving her purpose, that makes her soul sing. I am so angry that this is how girls are treated, yes I am aware that this is a work of fiction, but this fiction is inspired by real tales from girls growing up in this way. I wish those souls hadn’t had to suffer.
With each chapter, I am prouder of Lilian, she is sparking so much change in the women around her, just by being herself, by sharing her dreams of having a better life, of women being equal to men. I knew something had sparked in Amara, something that would come to help Lilian in some way, and it has. Women helping, inspiring and saving other women is something that we don’t see enough of, in todays society, we are all about being better than, having more followers than, being more popular than, and it is horrible. Ladies, build each other up, not tear each other down!
I Am Change is such a thought provoking and eye-opening book. One that will have you on the edge of your seat, laughing and crying along side these amazingly multi-faceted characters. I think what makes this book so much more relatable, shocking and intense, is that Zail, as she mentions in her Author Notes and Acknowledgements, travelled to Uganda and met thirty girls all living a life like Lilian. Zail, went to their villages, their homes, their schools, experienced the lives that they lived. Saw what it was like to be a woman, living like a second-rate citizen, because men are valued more than women. The fact that this author felt like she needed to do something for these women, to get their stories out there, is inspiring.
I think at the heart of this book, the message is that women hold more value than we realise. That we are so used to competing with each other, to trying to be what magazines tell us we should be, to pleasing and being what men want us to be, that we forget, we are people too. People who deserve to have rights, to be seen, to have an education and to have dreams. I think this book is going to unite people, to spark conversations and to be the change that women around the world need.
This is an amazing read, if you get the opportunity to read it, you definitely need to pick it up.
If you are inspired, like I am after reading this book and want to do something, follow the links below for more information. Any tiny donation can make a world of difference.
Help Girls Learn: Uganda: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/106767/help-girls-learn-uganda
Girl Child Network: http://gcnuganda.org.
Thanks for reading.