Don’t Tell Me What I Am

A schoolgirl suffering from a burnout tries to understand and process her traumatic experience. A fragmentary book full of conversations, memories and song lyrics, about a teenager’s search for herself.

Children's books
Original title
Er is geen vorm waar ik in pas
Erna Sassen

Sixteen-year-old Tessel has long been under the spell of her drama teacher. As she travels with him all over the country to his cabaret shows, their relationship becomes increasingly intimate. The teacher’s partner is pregnant, so he welcomes the extra attention. But when he abruptly breaks off contact with Tessel and accuses her of stalking him, her world falls apart. Only then does she realise what she has been through and what lines have been crossed.

This is the story of an adolescent losing her grip on reality. Tessel takes time off school and tries to pull herself together by working through what happened. She writes soul-searching poems and song lyrics and finds support and comfort in her conversations with the mother of a girl who has recently died.

The book is built up of fragments, consisting of memories, conversations and poetry — a style that is a perfect match for this confusing phase of Tessel’s life.

Erna Sassen grabs the reader by the throat with her poignant portrait of an insecure young woman who is trying to find her sense of self-worth. Sassen is emerging as an author who really knows what’s going on inside teenagers’ heads. The innocent days of childhood are over, and the transition into the adult world is a struggle. This author is uniquely talented at putting this tricky time into words.

Superbly written with an apparent lightness. Sassen captivates the reader with a story about family, friendship and absence that is by turns wise and penetrating and then very spicy and stomach-achingly funny.

de Volkskrant

Erna Sassen’s feeling for language is almost dazzling. Her sentences fascinate and flow, making this a real page-turner.

Erna Sassen
Erna Sassen (b. 1961) studied at the Theaterschool in Amsterdam and began her career as a radio producer and actor, including in musicals and as a nurse in a popular Dutch TV series about a hospital, making her debut as a YA author in 2004.
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