A Review by Emma Streeton
Who Am I? is the fictional diary of a young Aboriginal girl, Mary Talence, a member of the Stolen Generation.
The Sister in charge of Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home gave her a diary. Through its pages she describes her life – from her arrival there, aged five, through her struggle to understand why she was taken from her real mother, to her adoption at ten years of age by a white Catholic family in St Ives.
Mary is increasingly confused and ashamed as she is taught that white skinned is good, black skinned is bad. She longs to understand why this is so but finds that almost any questions provoke anger and accusations of ingratitude from the Burkes, her white adoptive family.
Extraordinary but painful
This book is as extraordinary as it is painful to read. Although written for the teen audience, I found myself very quickly and totally immersed into Mary’s story. It is honest and thought provoking. Not to mention the tears that constantly threatened to spill.
Heiss acknowledges the terrible treatment of Aboriginal children taken from their families. Alongside this, she also draws attention to the ignorance and genuinely good intentions that paved the way for legislators to pass this awful policy.
Mary’s diary entries well and truly bring her to life. She makes the reader privy to her thoughts, her struggles and the way in which she views her world. We spend a year with Mary and walk alongside her as she figures out who she is, where she comes from and why people treat her this way. Mary is a beautiful protagonist who stays with you long after you read her last diary entry. She never shows anger, only immense bewilderment of her situation and treatment. What I wanted most was to give Mary a big hug.
‘Everyone I like seems to go away, or gets taken away, or I get sent away. Is it me?’
I read this on my own but it is most definitely one I will share with my bookworms when they are a little bit older. It gives great insight into a period of history which had such an impact on those involved.
Who Am I? is a very important novel; one I hope schools use to remember the stolen generation.
It’s also available on Book Depository, which is where I found some of the more particular book details. – Editor
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Category: young adult, historical fiction, Indigenous