I Am Here Now – YA, book recommendation

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Title: I Am Here Now

Author: Barbara B0ttner

Publisher: Imprint, 2020

Ages: 13+

Format/Genre: Fiction in verse

Themes: coming-of-age, The Bronx, the sixties, art, dysfunctional families, teenage angst, abuse, semi-autobiographical

Reviewed from a copy sent from the author

Favorite Quotes:

I have, despite everything,
or maybe because of it,
passion for living this life.

You can’t trust Life to give you decent parents,
or beautiful eyes, a fine French accent or an outstanding flair for fashion.
No, Life does what it wants.
It’s sneaky as a thief.


A novel about Maisie a young Jewish girl coming of age in the Bronx during the 60’s. Maisie lives with her brother, father (who leaves them early in the novel), and abusive mother. Her homelife is always on the edge of explosion.

Richie, her close friend who lives next-door, also has an abusive father who suffers from PTSD.

In this her freshman high school year she meets Rachel who becomes not only her best friend bu Rachel’s mother, Kiki, becomes a surrogate mom to Maisie. Kiki is artist who helps Maisie explore and express her trauma and release it through art. As she starts working through the pain, her desperation provokes her to risk these new friendships, and the very future she’s searching for.

Why I like this book:

Normally novels in verse are a quick read for me, this was not, for two reasons: the story is very dense and while there are “stanza” titles there are no chapters. I am sure this latter was a stylistic choice to convey the stream of angsty consciousness in this very character-driven novel with a lot of internal dialogue. It certainly conveys that intensity but just made it a tad harder for me to read, especially how little hope fills so many of these pages.

it took me quite a few pages to start liking the protagonist and rooting for her. The story is brutal. The abuse that Maisie experiences is horrendous, and her father, before he leaves, and her grandmother are often passive onlookers, unwilling to acknowledge quite how bad the situation is. Maisie’s responses are predictably raw, reactionary immature but her attempts to find hope through art and through relationships resonate strongly with me as she tries to find something that will love her back when it appears impossible. It also felt very authentic that Maisie frequently has issues with Rachel and Kiki as well as the two male relationships in this book, because such wounds left her very handicapped to relate healthily. Ultimately, Maisie is a compelling, flawed character that rings so true. She is a fighter; often with words, sometimes through humor or art. But she is not a quitter. And for this you will root for her.

I really enjoyed Maisie’s relationship with her little brother, Davy, and his story arc. Every character in this book is crafted with depth, and I am sure readers will recognize themselves and others in these pages. Having lived seven years in New York, the 60’s Bronx setting rang true but was not integral to the plot, which has a timeless feel about it. The writing itself is elegant in its simplicity, truly a strong literary text. While not your typical YA, which is not a negative for me, the message is strong that even in the face of terrible abuse and neglect, art (poetry, fine art…) can save a young person from self-destruction. What a terrific theme. I am certainly happy to add my review copy to our high school shelves, as this is a novel that will find receptive young adult readers.

Finally, when I read the author’s note, and found out that this is a semi-biographical work of fiction, I realized that what I had been feeling as I read was that though this is clearly YA, it also felt more adult fiction to me too.

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1 Response to I Am Here Now – YA, book recommendation

  1. I love free verse for stories that are deeply personal. There is a lot going on in this story with many of the characters and you captured it well in your review. Surprised to hear PTSD in the 60s, as I’m not sure the term PTSD existed then. (I would have been a teen) Shell shock for WW I, II and Vietnam vets. Now of course, PTSD covers a lot of conditions – many invisible to others. Thanks for sharing!

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