I Am Here Now

Bar­bara Bottner

  • Review
By – July 19, 2021

It’s the ear­ly 1960s, and four­teen-year-old Maisie Mey­ers, who resides in Parkch­ester in the Bronx, is about to start high school. Maisie nav­i­gates her par­ents’ bit­ter mar­riage and her con­tentious rela­tion­ship with her moth­er while devel­op­ing as an artist. She finds a sym­pa­thet­ic ear in her friend Richie O’Neil, who lives in a build­ing vis­i­ble from her win­dow. Richie’s father is trau­ma­tized by a tour of duty in Vietnam.

Writ­ten as a series of poems, I Am Here Now explores Maise’s inner life through her art and rela­tion­ships with oth­ers. Some words and thoughts seem a bit too sophis­ti­cat­ed for a teenag­er of that time, but the stream-of-con­scious­ness style is engag­ing. Maisie likes to draw: I feel like I reside on a battlefield/​Like the Ger­man painter George Grosz, who sur­vived WWI/​And the artists Kathe Koll­witz, Oskar Kokoschka./From their can­vas­es and drawings.”

The Mey­ers fam­i­ly is falling apart, and Maisie uses her art to cope with liv­ing under what she calls a total­i­tar­i­an regime. Her moth­er is mean to her and, at one point, calls her draw­ings pathet­ic scratch­es” and rips them up. With a father who is always away on busi­ness, Masie has what her best friend calls an unnat­ur­al hunger for male atten­tion.” In scene after scene, the fight­ing in Maisie’s home is drain­ing, and the set­ting becomes stifling.

Maisie’s fam­i­ly is not reli­gious but dis­tin­guish­ing iden­ti­fiers of Jew­ish her­itage are sprin­kled through­out the nov­el. Her broth­er plays the piano and men­tions with excite­ment that Gersh­win was Jew­ish. Maisie attends Hebrew school and, in one scene, she is forced to go to a Shab­bat din­ner which includes tra­di­tion­al bless­ings. I don’t mind being a Jew,” Maisie says.

I Am Here Now is an engag­ing explo­ration of the tur­moil of grow­ing up as a cre­ative indi­vid­ual. There is a list­ing of resources at the end to help peo­ple going through the type of chal­lenges described in its pages.

Discussion Questions