I Am Here Now

Written by Barbara Bottner
Review by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

When this free-verse novel begins in 1960, fourteen-year-old Maisie lives with her unhappily married parents and misfit younger brother, David, in a cramped apartment in the Bronx. She’s starting high school and hopes her longtime friendship with across-the-street neighbor Richie, three years older, will help her fit in. Richie and Maisie have bonded over mentally ill parents. Richie’s father drinks and has violent episodes as a result of his work as a military adviser in Vietnam, while Maisie’s mother terrorizes her and David while accusing their father of infidelity. Maisie dreams of being an artist, and her friendship with high school classmate Rachel, whose bohemian mother is a painter, opens up a formerly inaccessible world as it creates tensions within Maisie’s family and between her and her new best friend.

Bottner’s novel offers a vivid, authentic portrait of working- and middle-class life among ethnic whites in early 1960s New York City, with occasional clashes among Jewish, Irish, and Italian teens, and family secrets behind locked doors. Through Maisie’s mother, Bottner portrays the plight of women forced into roles for which they were ill-suited, with the consequent resentment poisoning the lives of everyone around them. Even those who managed to break out, like Rachel’s mother, paid a heavy price. Divorce was rare and stigmatizing, and gay kids like David were forced deep into the closet. This is a powerful, inspiring story of small-scale resistance to social norms and resilience in the face of oppressive family circumstances as Maisie and David put aside their rivalries to plot their escape.