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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nelson

When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur


A poetry, prose, and illustration hybrid, this collection shows what it means to be unheard in a world refusing to listen. Using powerful words of love, longing, and empowerment, Jasmin Kaur’s debut novel utilizes the love her characters share as an illustration that the compassion we show for one another is just the beginning. This is a story told through emotion using the love a mother has for her daughter as the tipping point.

I would recommend this for anyone interested in poetry, social justice, race, illustrations, strong female characters, and strong sentence structure.

I was recently laid off from my current position due to COVID-19’s effect on the American economy, and I was given the chance to really dive back into my to-read list (or more accurately, my currently-reading list). This one seemed to fit right at the top of the pile because it’s small (I’m really into books with small pages) and it’s poetry (I thought I would fly through it (that was incorrect)).

This work is extremely honest. It follows a mother who’s moving to Canada to start a new life. The emotional journey is around finding a new home in a new land with a large amount of people treating you like an other simply based on the color of your skin.

As a white man, I only get to truly experience a small portion of oppression (if any). Being a gay white man gives me some perspective, but not a lot. What this book helped me see is that although I don’t see or experience the inherent racism in our society today, that does not mean it’s gone (in fact it’s still quite rampant). As children grow up in a world that is diversifying by the minute, this conversation of acceptance is important and is one that needs to continually happen. If 2019 council members in smaller parts of the country are still using this kind of racist thought, this conversation is not yet over. As one character in Kaur’s book states, “are our families really as bad as he says they are[?]” Do those who we oppress really say at some point, “must I be as bad as they say?” I can say that as a gay teen, there were several times thinking “I must be as bad and evil as they think. From how many times I’m hearing it, it must be true.” For me, this was the first time I’ve seen it in reference to race and I am so ashamed. I am so ashamed that I had never made that connection before. I am ashamed that I had never approached a situation with race in mind or the fact that a person may be living outside of their comfort zone just because of the way they look, the way they feel.

When You Ask Me Where I’m Going is about being an outsider in a world that is refusing to let you in. When you ask me where I’m going, I’ll tell you that I’m going to make a difference. That I am going to make a change where change is needed and I will continually read texts like this to pursue a better understanding of the world around me.

As one of her last poems states, “fold the / unfinished / poems of / our people / into paper / lanterns and / release them / / let light fill / all the spaces / where words / cannot yet go.”

I cannot recommend this book any higher.

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