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Book Review: Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja

Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices edited by Masuma Ahuja is the compilation of the lives of thirty teenage girls from twenty-seven countries and six continents. Whenever we think of a country, we often think of its political, social, geographical, or financial contexts. Rarely do we think how a person living in that country lives a regular everyday life. Even more rarely, do we think about how a teenage girl might be living her life. This book is important in filling this gap. Not only do we get a glimpse of the everyday life of a teenage girl but Ahuja also contextualizes that country’s social, political, and economic aspects to provide a complete understanding.

The stories are arranged in alphabetical order of the girls’ names, flattening any kind of geographical inequality. Ahuja had written for the Washington Posts The Lily which featured twelve girls from ten different countries which was the starting point of this book. A typical section consists of questions which a girl answers, followed by a context, her diary/journal-like entries, and photographs. Many of the stories have been translated into English. There are also the stories of three teenagers who are studying or living in a country different from their home. These show the struggles that the girls face in a foreign country, including the pressures to perform and homesickness.

I enjoyed all the stories especially those of Amiya from London who talks about being multiracial, Diza from India who is navigating belonging and fitting in, Emilly from Brazil who’s a teenage mother, Halima from Afghanistan who wants to continue her education, Jocelyn from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who loves to write and is training to be a nurse, Merisena from Haiti who’s a chess champion, Sattigul from Mongolia whose family members are nomadic herders and she lives in a dormitory for her education, Sophie from St. Louis who writes about her mental health struggles, and Varvara who discusses her battle with anorexia.

Despite such a wide range of social contexts, family relationships, age, community situations, and political background, there are certain common things that the girls share: ambitious dreams, a love for their family, hanging out with friends, uncertainty about the future, social expectations versus personal goals, and their journey to becoming their authentic selves. This is an excellent boom to have a better knowledge of the different countries as well as to see beyond the media and news coverage of the world. I enjoyed reading about the girls and the details of their everyday lives, education, families, friends, and dreams. The stories are relatable, encouraging, and beautiful and I recommend this book.

Rashmila likes to read books by/about women/people of color. She prefers fiction to reality. A dog parent and word ninja, she volunteers for non-profits and is multilingual. Favorite genre- contemporary literary fiction.

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