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- author Jackie French

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Review: I Am Change

This powerful coming of age novel is based on a true story. Author Suzy Zail met Namukasa Nusala Sarah in Kampala Uganda in 2015.  She discovered a young girl with a thirst for knowledge who would wash clothes and sell porridge to earn money to purchase books.

The novel’s central character Lilian personifies Namukasa. Lilian learns the hard way of how a young girl in Uganda should behave and what is expected of her within her own family and the world in general.

On the verge of womanhood, Lilian can no longer wear short dresses in case she attracts attention, she must ensure no man is present when she washes and should always tend to the men of the family before her own needs.

Her mother sends Lilian to her Aunt Afia to show her how to behave as woman not as a young girl. Aunt Afia teaches Lilian all about impending womanhood including exploring her sexuality and how to please men – it certainly is a reality check for Lilian. All 13 year old Lilian has dreamed about is having her own patch of dirt with a hut full of children, just like her family.

Attending school with her best friend Dimple, Lilian shares her new found information. Together they experience the joys and disappointments going to school brings. From writing their words smaller so they don’t run out of paper to write on, going to school shoeless or worse being thrown out of school when their families can no longer pay.

For Lilian, the thirst of knowledge becomes everything, so when she misses a test she is devastated. Then she discovers her father can only afford to send her brother to school as he needs to be educated.

In a deal brokered by her father, Lilian is sent to the city to continue her education and attend school. The price is becoming a housemaid to her Uncle Beneh and his wife Amara. Lilian adores being at school, even joining the empowerment club where she learns that as a woman she has rights. Lilian now dreams of becoming a teacher or a writer or both. Just as Lilian starts to believe in herself, circumstances change, and she is dragged back to her family and away from school.

On her return, Lilian soon discovers the truth of family secrets, horrifying coming of age rituals and the consequences of ambition. Will Lilian ever make it out of her village, is she destined to an arranged marriage or will the sudden arrival of her Aunt Amara be her salvation?

Author Suzy Zail’s novel is a revelation of the hardship’s African women experience. This story will resonate with young women who struggle with identity, family expectations and the desire to be something more.
Title: I Am Change
Author: Suzy Zail
Publisher: walker Book Australia, $19.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925126839
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction