Title: Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices
Author: Masuma Ahuja
Publisher: Alognquin Young Readers
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: February 9, 2021
Summary: What does a teenage girl dream about in Nigeria or New York? How does she spend her days in Mongolia, the Midwest, and the Middle East?
All around the world, girls are going to school, working, dreaming up big futures—they are soccer players and surfers, ballerinas and chess champions. Yet we know so little about their daily lives. We often hear about challenges and catastrophes in the news, and about exceptional girls who make headlines. But even though the health, education, and success of girls so often determines the future of a community, we don’t know more about what life is like for the ordinary girls, the ones living outside the headlines.
From the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia to the South Pacific, the thirty teens from twenty-seven countries in Girlhood share their own stories of growing up through diary entries and photographs, and the girls’ stories are put in context with reporting and research that helps us understand the circumstances and communities they live in. This full-color, exuberantly designed volume is a portrait of ordinary girlhood around the world, and of the world, as seen through girls’ eyes.
Review: The premise of this book definitely got my attention. I’ve always been fascinated by biography and memoir because seeing how other people move through the world really informs me about myself as well as others. There are connections made that may be unexpected and many insights to appreciate. Through these thirty stories, readers can learn about others and themselves. Already with the very first story, there I was on the page. Alejandra explained, “Sometimes I arrive late, but that is my role in the group, being late always and everywhere. I do not say it proudly, but I accept it.” It may seem a little thing, but even small connections can be meaningful and help us feel less alone in the world. Finding someone we can relate to on the page can be helpful especially now when many people are so isolated.
I also appreciated the design of the book and think that the scrapbook style will appeal to many readers. There are photos from the contributors and lots of interesting design choices such as when there are maps and shading behind the text. It helps to keep it from feeling text-heavy.
Ahuja includes quite a bit of context with each of the features. She gives background information about the location and some of the concerns, events, or activities the young person may have in their life. She also includes quite a few statistics regarding gender-based violence, discrimination, and other things negatively impacting young women around the world. For the most part her commentary was very helpful.
One thing I noticed was that Ahuja explained that the girls in the book couldn’t and weren’t meant to represent all of the many possible experiences of girls in their country. She mentioned that while she was reminding readers of the economic disparity in Guatemala. The girl from Guatemala had what Ahuja called a comfortable life that might not fit what is shown in the news. On the flip side though, when sharing about the girl living in poverty in a dangerous neighborhood in Haiti, she doesn’t remind readers that there are also people in Haiti that have more money and live a more comfortable life. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it was something that didn’t sit well with me.
The best part of the book though is definitely hearing from girls in their own voices. They are sharing day to day type of information. It’s very personal which can draw readers in even when their activities may seem fairly mundane. Things are often universal and really remind us that we are all humans just trying to live the best way we know how. The girls share hopes, dreams, disappointments, frustrations, joy, and so much more. To see a day or two in the life of so many personalities in so many situations and settings is really a delight. It’s an incredible collaboration and is a great way to amplify the voices of young people and get those words out to other young people who can benefit from seeing pieces of themselves on the page.
Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a book that will speak to many readers and could be both inspirational and comforting.
Meet some of the girls in the original “Girlhood Around the World” project at The Lily