Saturday, August 19, 2023

Today's read... I Am Kavi by Thushanthi Ponweera

by Thushanthi Ponweera
Holiday House
Middle Grade Historical / Verse
272 pages
ages 9 to 12


Caught between two worlds—a poverty-stricken village and a fancy big-city school—a young Sri Lankan girl must decide who she really is and where she really belongs.

1998, Colombo. The Sri Lankan Civil War is raging, but everyday life must go on. At Kavi’s school, her friends talk about the weekly Top 40, the Backstreet Boys, Shahrukh Khan, Leo & Kate… and who died—or didn’t—in the latest bombing. But Kavi is afraid of something even scarier than war. She fears that if her friends discover her secret—that she is not who she is pretending to be—they’ll stop talking to her.

I want to be friends with these / happy, / fearless, / girls / who look like they / belong.
So I could also be / happy, / fearless, / and maybe even / belong.

Kavi’s scholarship to her elite new school was supposed to be everything she ever wanted, but as she tries to find some semblance of normalcy in a country on fire, nothing is going according to plan. In an effort to fit in with her wealthy, glittering, and self-assured new classmates, Kavi begins telling lies, trading her old life—where she’s a poor girl whose mother has chosen a new husband over her daughter—for a new one, where she’s rich, loved, and wanted. But how long can you pretend to be someone else?

This dazzling novel-in-verse comes from an astonishing new talent who lived through the civil war herself. Perfect for fans of Jamine Warga, Supriya Kelkar, and Rajani LaRocca, I Am Kavi centers a powerful South Asian voice, and stars an unforgettable heroine each and every one of us can relate to.

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON    /    B&N


Written in potent and lovely prose, Kavi's tale draws in and broadens horizons.

Kavi is ten-years-old and lives with her mother and step-father in a mostly constructed shack under very poor circumstances. The only hope of improvement is for Kavi to score high on the exam, which would allow her to attend one of the large schools in the cities. And she makes it. Moving to relatives, her life is better than she could have dreamed, and she even makes friends with two of the most popular girls. Pretending to be just like that and hiding her true background, she builds a delicately balanced mountain of that threatens to tumble down.

It was refreshing to read a tale set in Sri Lanka, and I've never really looked into the civil war, which took place there during the 1990's. So, this is already an interesting read for anyone, who enjoys discovering more about the culture and history of that country. All of this information flows very naturally into the tale, offering more of a atmospheric impression with little details dribble in here and there. It allows the reader to sink into the daily life at that time from both poor and more well-off sides. Plus, there's obvious lessons about embracing ones self and the disaster of building up lies.

This story is written in well-crafted verse. It's from Kavi's point of view and really sinks into her situation. The first chapters allow the reader to get a good understanding of her life before her move to the city, giving Kavi depth and providing the necessary background to sympathize with her even more later on. It's emotional, creates deep moments, and flows very smoothly in all the right ways.

While this one is sold for ages over eight, I'm shifting my recommendation to ages ten and above due to the depth of the read. Plus, there are some subtle meanings, which younger audiences won't completely grasp. It's a lovely read, which is sure to make a lasting impression.

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