Freedom: we take so much of it for granted. The freedom to be who we are, to follow our preferences, to live free of discrimination and persecution. But are we free? One only has to look around us at post-Brexit Britain and the refugee crisis to know that freedom is elusive.
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free” ― Emma Lazarus
There has never been a better time to open up the human rights debate and Amnesty International UK and Walker Books have collaborated to curate a collection of stories and poems to bring the topic of human rights to the young adult audience.
Here I Stand: Stories That Speak for Freedom features twenty-five leading authors and illustrators including Neil Gaiman, John Boyne and Matt Haig who have contributed stories and poems that tackle issues such as gender equality, racism, human trafficking and child abuse. The result, is an incredibly powerful collection.
I’ve always found that short story collections can be a bit of a hit and miss. The stories often appear to be more akin to short novellas than a quick read and they often lack a central thread that ties all of the stories together. My usual strategy is to pick one of two stories that appeal to me and I leave the rest.
Here I Stand: Stories That Speak for Freedom was the opposite of that. Each story is vastly compelling and I read each and every single one of them. Not only that, I read them in order (rare for me for a short story collection) and I stayed up way too late on more than one occasion as I read ‘just one more’.
If you are looking for a book to truly move you, then this collection is a very good place to start.
For me, the best story in the collection was Bali Rai’s “The Colour of Humanity”. Written in response to the murder of Liverpool teenager Anthony Walker, this story was so powerful that it took my breath away. As I finished it, with heart rattling against my ribcage, I had to put the book down for a moment to catch my breath again.
Likewise, “Harmless Joe” by Tony Birch was an incredibly interesting story about a man on the edge of a community and who we choose to ostracise. Tony Birch wanted to write about the most marginalised people in society and he did so with absolute grace, weaving together a story that was both fascinating and disturbing.
That was the most valuable aspect of this collection – after most pieces, the authors took a moment to explain why they had written their stories and the inspiration behind them. In her story “Love Is A Word Not A Sentence”, Liz Kessler wanted to write about how being gay is illegal in many parts of the world but she realised that it can be a death sentence in other societies too due to bullying and hatred.
Issued in hardback with an eye-catching yellow jacket, Here I Stand: Stories That Speak for Freedom has been designed to be shared and reread and displayed proudly on any bookshelf. This is a book that begs discussion and debate and that will inspire the most introverted reader to argue their position.
I give Here I Stand: Stories That Speak for Freedom a superb five out of five stars and would recommend this collection to everybody, adults and young adults alike. It is an important book but more importantly, well written and expertly curated.
The book is available from Amazon on Kindle or hardcover.
Here I Stand: Author Event
If you are a teacher or librarian, you might want to attend the following event on using fiction to explore human rights at Amnesty’s offices in Shoreditch.
What: Author event - Here I Stand: using fiction to inspire teens in the classroom
Who: Award-winning authors Elizabeth Laird, Bali Rai, Sita Brahmachari and performance poet Amy Leon with teachers and librarians
When: 6pm, Thursday 15 September
Where: Human Rights Action Centre, Amnesty International UK, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA
Register for a place at www.amnesty.org.uk/events/here-i-stand-author-event-and-teachmeet
I’d like to thank Amnesty for providing me with a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. This post contains affiliate links.