Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices

  Girlhood:  Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices
Author:  Masuma Ahuja
Publication Information:  Algonquin Young Readers. 2021. 256 pages.
ISBN:  1643750119 / 978-1643750118

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Chen Xi stays up all night studying for a test."

Favorite Quote:  "In putting together this book, I found echoes the emotions and types of experiences of my own teenage years. While the species of each life are different - and make for colorful and rich stories - many of the themes that teenage girls experience and explore are similar:  a longing for the adventures ahead, dreams burning big and bright, and the angst and growing pains of figuring out their own place in the world."

***** BLOG TOUR ****

This book grew out of a series the author composed for The Washington Post's The Lily, and it begins with disclaimers about its own limitations:
  • "Because I asked for written entries, I could only include girls who have learned how to write and are comfortable with words."
  • "...these pages only feature girls who were able to share and who felt safe sharing their stories."
  • "The book could not be comprehensive ... but I hope it is representative of a vase range of girls' experiences."
Now, on to what this book is:
  • It is a collection of about 30 portraits, each focusing on one girl.
  • The ages of the girls are the teen years - 13 to 19.
  • The regions they represent are:  Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mongolia, Nigeria, Panama, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Syria, Vanatu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Each portrait covers a few pages and is laid out like a scrapbook with text and images, including pictures of the girl. The text includes dairy entries by the girl. "While the diary entries have been lightly edited for length and clarity, and some have been translated from their original language, the are all the works of the girls I interviewed." The other portion of the text is written by the author and provides context - "her community, her circumstances, the themes she explores, or the country in which she lives" - for the girl's story.

Given the parameters of the book, it does not bring to light the story of the girls whose lives are perhaps most marginalized and most at risk. Their voices unfortunately do not yet have a way out of their environment.

What this book does so beautifully is explore the world, celebrate our diversity, and at the same time, draw us closer in the myriad ways in which these girls share similar experiences and hopes and dreams. In a world that seems focused so often on division, any attempt to unite is cause for celebration. When that unification comes in the hands of young people, it is all the more powerful for that will build the future. That is my hope, and this book certainly fosters that sense of universality.

What this book also does so beautifully is give voice to the teen years. Perhaps, for a reader, one girl's diary will strike a particular note and give voice to the reader's world and remind them that they are not alone in their experience. Any support that can be found for an age often fraught with insecurity and anxiety is a welcome offering.

The author's notes on each girl and her circumstances educates also. The reader travels around the world and receives a brief introduction to world history and politics. That education comes in a compact, easily read package rather than a textbook lecture, making it approachable.

Finally, it is the girls' diaries themselves that resonate. The pictures and the words paint a picture of each young woman and their joys and heartbreaks. For all these reasons, I see myself sharing this book with the young women and men in my life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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