cover image I Am Kavi

I Am Kavi

Thushanthi Ponweera. Holiday House, $18.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-82345-365-8

Exploring friendship, family, and grief against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, Ponweera’s debut, a stirring novel in verse, traces a 10-year-old’s desire to fit in. In May 1997, Kavi lives in a village in Sri Lanka’s Anuradhapura District with her mother, Amma, who works in the paddy fields, and her step-father, Siripala, whom she worries will replace her late father’s role in their family. Kavi tries to be a “good Buddhist girl” and a “good Sinhalese girl,” and dreams of achieving academic success so she and Amma can leave for the city. But when Kavi scores highest in her district, now-pregnant Amma cannot accompany her to Colombo for further schooling. Living with her aunt, who works as a housemaid, Kavi dreams of being like her “happy, fearless, popular” peers, and begins telling elaborate lies to fit in. The lies help her find acceptance from her peers, but they come at a cost—to Kavi’s grades, her values, and her sense of self. Amid a historical setting informed by classism, colorism, and colonization, short reflective phrases and vivid cultural details bring out the nuanced story’s emotional depth and show the devastating impact of war on Kavi and her loved ones. Back matter offers historical context. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jacqui Lipton, Raven Quill Literary. (Sept.)