Sunday, 21 August 2016

Here I Stand: Stories that Speak for Freedom (ed. Amnesty International)

--The blurb--
"Did you know that ... government spies can turn on your phone and use the microphone to listen to your conversations? ... that lesbian and gay relationships are illegal in 78 countries and can be punished by death? ... that Amnesty recently recorded the highest number of executions globally for more than 25 years? 

Through short stories and poetry, twenty-five leading authors and illustrators explore the top human rights issues facing young people today. 

Now is the time to take a stand and make a difference. 

Full list of contributors: Tony Birch, John Boyne, Sita Brahmachari, Kevin Brooks, Kate Charlesworth, Sarah Crossan, Neil Gaiman, Jack Gantos, Ryan Gattis, Matt Haig, Frances Hardinge, Jackie Kay, AL Kennedy, Liz Kessler, Elizabeth Laird, Amy Leon, Sabrina Mahfouz, Chelsea Manning, Chibundu Onuzo, Bali Rai, Chris Riddell, Mary and Bryan Talbot, Christie Watson and Tim Wynne-Jones."

--The review--
We are brought face to face daily in the national and international press with global problems that shock the world: female genital mutilation, terrorism, and grooming to name but a few. And thanks to the internet, today's teenagers are more aware than ever, and such issues are not restricted to the pages of newspapers and the eyes of adults. However, it's never enough, and Amnesty International's latest collection of short stories, poetry and comic strips, entitled Here I Stand, do much to amplify these issues for the youth in particular.

While the quality and clarity of the texts included in the anthology do vary, the majority are illuminating and decidedly non-schmaltzy. They address the ideas concerned directly, yet subtly, and make clear that they are not to be brushed aside as problems that only occur on one side of the world, as they can bubble under the surface of many communities in even highly developed countries. 

The variety of texts involved is also a plus, as even reluctant readers will latch on to the artwork and contemporary poetry included, bringing new focus to a wide range of human rights violations. Authorial notes are frequently appended, which again can frequently shed new light on the issues and inspirations from which the texts sprang.

Young people often serve as the protagonists of these texts, serving to further reach out to the youth who are likely to be reading about their plights. Equally, the backgrounds of these narrators and writers span the whole world, leaving something with which all readers can identify - and the sense that it could happen to them, or within their community, is vital in terms of triggering empathy and a will to act. The stories draw deeply upon current affairs that teens will be aware of, even if only through social media or playground gossip rather than their own experiences. And what is literature for if not to take us outside ourselves and the worlds in which we have been raised? This collection, by and large, achieves this successfully, with only one or two notable exceptions, which very occasionally lack depth or accessibility in terms of the writing styles deployed.

Nonetheless, this should not stop parents, teachers or adolescents from picking up this groundbreaking compendium. It combines beauty with reality and hope with despair in a way that provokes discussion about human rights, in a highly readable format that will engage even the most reluctant or least academic. It forms multiple bridges with the world around us and urges us to do something, no matter how small, to improve the situations of others. Furthermore, income from sales of the book supports Amnesty's investigations into human rights abuses - so even if you buy the book and barely touch it, you'll already be making a difference. But exploring these pages is even more highly recommended, as awareness is the most powerful weapon.

To see Amnesty International's full catalogue of books for sale, please visit

No comments: