Review: When You Ask Me Where I’m Going

Title: When You Ask Me Where I’m Going
Author: Jasmin Kaur
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 256
Review copy: ARC via publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Perfect for fans of Rupi Kaur and Elizabeth Acevedo, Jasmin Kaur’s stunning debut novel is a collection of poetry, illustrations, and prose.

so that one day
a hundred years from now
another sister will not have to
dry her tears wondering
where in history
she lost her voice

The six sections of the book explore what it means to be a young woman living in a world that doesn’t always hear her and tell the story of Kiran as she flees a history of trauma and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America.

Delving into current cultural conversations including sexual assault, mental health, feminism, and immigration, this narrative of resilience, healing, empowerment, and love will galvanize readers to fight for what is right in their world.

Review: If you follow us much, you’ll know that I’m definitely partial to poetry. Even if I wasn’t though, I think this collection would have impressed and moved me. The epigraph explains that the poems in this book will not be gentle and that is complete truth. Readers should go into it prepared to feel some emotions.

The first five sections of the book each begin with a brief piece about a necessary part of the body. Skin is the first focus. She points out that folks draw all sorts of conclusions when they see skin. She quickly points out that it’s exciting when people meet her thorough her words, because then they what is inside her will matter more than how she is seen on the outside. So many of the poems are about how a young woman of color is viewed by others. In particular, how a South Asian young Sikh woman may be viewed – by strangers and even by loved ones. She tells a young girl that she will be “baptized into womanhood” by the gaze of those who own her.

Kaur is stating over and over the many different ways people are trying to fit her into their particular box. She resists the push for her to perform womanhood for others. There are expectations about looks, behavior, and even the way one speaks. She also describes the many ways she will fight that. One sentence stood out so much in relation to language and basically how she will speak unapologetically, “i will not italicize all the parts of myself that make no sense to you.”

Kaur wrote many poems dealing with domestic abuse, abusive relationships, grief and other traumatic situations. It seems she is sharing a warning with others and perhaps reminding herself how to remain safe from harm. There is also a sense of hope and strength especially in the final section that begins with light. Illumination. The thing that can bring clarity and warmth and help a person find themself. The light reveals things within and without and shows us where we fit as part of this universe.

While I was reading I found myself jotting down so many phrases. There’s beauty, strength, and wisdom here. The content of the words impressed me, but the format was interesting too. There were illustrations sprinkled in and they always enriched the poetry rather than just acting as window dressing. She also used a variety of poetry forms and played with spacing and shapes in the poems. These are the types of things that will likely make this even more appealing to readers.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is a strong collection and has so much to say to everyone.