When I First Knew- Joan Alden

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)


“It’s starting to get to me how unfair life is when it comes to boys and girls.”

A profound statement from a seven year old girl speaks a lot about the society that was prevalent at the time and still exists. It was difficult to be a tomboy, especially in suburban Detroit in the 1950s. But Abigail Ann Harper not only flaunted it, but strived to break the bonds of gender stereotypes.

I love a book that has a statement to make and a story to tell. This is one of those books that you have to read, because words from an innocent heart strike metal harder than a piece of hot metal.

The book can be described as a fictional narrative in memoir format in which the lead character, Abigail Harper, tells the story of her upbringing in a narrow-minded society. The poignant narrative style is quite effective in bringing out the character and helps the reader in forming a bond with her. I did note a large number of grammatical and punctuation errors, though I wasn’t sure if it was intentional in order to depict a young girl’s style of writing to her imaginary friend or an unconscious effort on behalf of the author due to her involvement with the story.

But Mom said, “That’s not the sort of thing you should be doing anyway.”

“Why?” I said angry.

“Keep it up”, she warned me, “and it won’t matter how pretty you are, the boys won’t be interested.”

The clarity of the language definitely helps in maintaining the flow of the story in first person which made the book quite effective in transporting the readers to the self-explorative journey of the character towards self-discovery. The title is definitely straightforward and represents the main theme of standing apart in the crowd. However, like always, I was not happy with the art form used as a cover image.

Even though the genre represents adults, I would definitely recommend this book to adults as well to young adults and teenagers. Frankly, at timesI was reminded of The Diary of Anne Frank and the classic To Kill a Mockingbird mainly because of the style of narration used. I loved it.

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