Title: Who Am I? (My Australian Story)
Author: Anita Heiss
Published: May 2020
Readership: Middle Grade
Trigger warning: Stolen generation story
I received a copy of Who Am I? from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I woke up this morning and I couldn’t stop crying, cos this place is not my home, even though everyone says it is. When I was a little girl Mum would always hug me when I cried and tell me everything would be all right. Who’s gunna hug me here?
Mary lives with the Burkes, but they’re not her real family. She hasn’t seen her real mum and dad since she was taken away from them five years ago. Everyone tells her to forget about them, but she can’t. She wants to find out why she was taken, and where she really belongs.
If you’re looking for an emotional read, look no further than Who Am I?, part of the My Australian Story series, written by indigenous author, Anita Heiss.
Told through a series of diary entries, we learn about Mary – a young girl taken from her family to live in an Aboriginal children’s home and then, later, with a white family who take her in because she’s fair-skinned enough to pass as almost-white. She’s told that the Burke’s are her new family, and she needs to forget about the past, but Mary isn’t able to do that and she begins to find out what she can in anyway she can.
Mary is a really incredible character. She’s 10 years old when the book begins, and she’s been gifted a journal from the head of the children’s home, Matron Rose. So begins Mary’s journey of documenting her life – from the smallest moments to the significant ones – and figuring out who she is and where she’s come from. She’s a tough, resilient girl who tries to make the best of every situation, even when faced with daily racism and bullying.
I think the fact that this story was told through diary entries makes it easier to read. The content is quite heavy – especially as an adult reading a story about someone from the Stolen Generation. It’s an incredibly bleak and horrific part of Australia’s history that is very emotionally charged, and to experience it through the eyes of a young girl who doesn’t really understand what’s happened to her is both horrifying, but also accessible – especially for younger readers. It certainly doesn’t lose any of it’s impact though, and there were times when I had to put the book down and just think about it and process what’s happened.
This is an older title that is being re-released with new cover art, but it certainly still feels relevant for today. It’s a great title for those middle-grade readers who have an interest in Australia’s history or social justice issues, and is definitely a great text to unpack in a class. I do think it’s a great discussion piece.