Review of I Am Kavi

I Am Kavi I Am Kavi
by Thushanthi Ponweera
Intermediate    Holiday    272 pp.
9/23    9780823453658    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780823457274    $11.99

At ten years old, Kavi has already experienced her share of trauma and heartbreak. Her father spent a decade at the front lines in the Sri Lankan civil war and returned to their rural home an amputee, only to die of a sudden heart attack. Kavi’s mother remarries and becomes pregnant, leaving a still-grieving Kavi certain her mother no longer loves her. When she earns a scholarship to a prestigious school in the capital city, Colombo, Kavi jumps at the opportunity but soon feels ashamed of her poor, rural roots in a school full of wealthy city kids. The novel, set in the late 1990s, is a superb study of the Sri Lankan class system and the lengths to which someone might go to fit in. Convinced she will have to change to make friends with the rich “cool” girls who have fancy new clothes, cars, and servants, Kavi pretends to be wealthy and creates a web of lies she soon gets caught in, ultimately revealing what really matters. A moving coming-of-age story written in verse about understanding and embracing who you truly are. The war acts as a highly charged political backdrop to Kavi’s struggles to accept her family. Back matter provides­ context on the Sri Lankan civil war; in an author’s note, ­Ponweera reflects on her own experiences growing up during the war.

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Calling Caldecott co-author Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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