They told her that her body belonged to men and her mind didn’t matter. They were wrong.
“What if I don’t want to marry?” Lillian held her breath. She had never said the words out loud. “Not want to marry?” Her aunt frowned. “What else would you do?” Set in an Ugandan village, Lilian has learned to shrink herself to fit other people’s ideas of what a girl is. In her village a girl is not meant to be smarter than her brother. A girl is not meant to go to school or enjoy her body or decide who to marry. Especially if she is poor. Inspired by and written in consultation with young Ugandan women, I Am Change is the tragic but empowering story of how a young girl finds her voice and the strength to fight for change.
I Am Change is an extraordinary novel from Suzy Zail, about dreams, destiny, expectations, and one young girl’s determination to follow her passion and reject the future that is expected of her.
Suzy Zail’s book is fictional, but it is based on countless research and interviews with young Ugandan women. Lilian’s story in the book was inspired by 30 different Ugandan women, and all of the experiences that Lilian had in the book, are based on real life events that happened to at least one Ugandan woman.
At times, it was incredibly distressing because Ugandan women are often subjected to horrible customs and treatment from others. I Am Change explores traumatic topics such as genital mutilation, rape, forced child marriage, infant death, and poverty.
In developing countries around the world, over 200,000 million girls don’t have the opportunity to go to school or develop an education. In I Am Change, Lilian is determined to finish her schooling and go to university. She doesn’t want to be forced into a marriage, and she doesn’t want to follow the path that her mother expects of her purely because she’s a girl.
“The final bell rang and the class spilled from the room. Masani had followed one of the older boys to the back of the sports shed. Lilian snuck after them to watch. She wanted to look away, wanted to feel angry with Masani, but she couldn’t muster disgust, or even disappointment, just guilt that the watching warmed her body.”
Lilian wants to be a teacher, but no one believes it’s possible, or that she’s able to achieve that. She must get married and have babies — that is her role. That is the role of every woman in Uganda. Lilian’s father and aunt are the only two people who believe in her, and combined, they help her throughout the novel. But I imagine in the real world, many girls do not have support from their parents or extended family.
I Am Change is essential reading for adults and young readers — most readers in Australia probably have no idea what it’s like to live the kind of disadvantaged life that Lilian and her friends go through. And it’s horrifying to think that there are hundreds of thousands of women who have lived or are living these kinds of experiences around the world.
Not only is the story beautiful and the characters inviting, but the writing is fantastic. Suzy Zail crafts sentences that flow incredibly well, the dialogue is realistic to the age of the characters, and the story itself is engaging.
“Dimple didn’t return to school at the end of the wet season and with Trinah gone and Nasreen about to be married, Lilian’s only female company was Masani, who spent her lunchtimes emptying boys’ pockets of coins. Thomas still tried to buy Lilian with pencil sharpeners and cold drinks but his greasy smirk made her skin crawl.”
I Am Change is about awareness and education, and the importance of women receiving the same opportunities as men in developing countries. I anticipate many people will read this book and be moved by the characters, the circumstances, and Lilian’s courageous actions to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage in her family. Highly recommended.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
I Am Change
Walker Books Australia