on 25 September 2001
"Here I am!" is Russell Stannard's third children's novel, the first two being "The Time and Space of Uncle Albert" and "Black Holes and Uncle Albert", both of which explore Einstein's theories.
"Here I am" is a nice story about a spirited young girl, called Sam, who has a series of conversations with God about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. God actually talks to Sam through her computer (I couldn't help wondering what his voice sounded like). I thought this was a nicely contrived way of bringing modern communication technology into things - no vision questing or ambiguous dreams to interpret in this one. It was also a clever way of allowing Sam to be the cynical sceptic throughout much of the story - doubting that she's even talking to God - she reckons he's just a clever hacker.
Clearly reflecting a predominantly, albeit rather tolerant, Christian perspective, Stannard sets out to confront a host of those age-old theological questions, including the difficult ones such as, why would such a loving God allow so much suffering, poverty and war in the world? I would say that, on the whole, Stannard dealt with most of the questions rather well, with clear, easy to understand explanations.
As suggested on the inside cover page of the book, I think that the story does demonstrate that science and religious belief can indeed co-exist and need not contradict each other. Arguably, they can be seen as essential complementary elements in understanding our complex, mysterious and wonderful universe.
Another nice thing about the book, like his other book "The Time and Space of Uncle Albert", is that Stannard includes a set of questions at the end of the book which tell you exactly what you'll encounter within the rest of the book.
On the down side, I wasn't too convinced about Stannard's explanation as to why we're all here in the first place - portraying God as a bit of a 'Lonely Heart' needing someone to love him seemed a bit lame to me. Also, Stannard totally omitted any reference at all to the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation. I found this a little surprising bearing in mind that these are two important ideas which feature in other world religions, and do actually offer explanations concerning the presence of evil, where we've come from, why we're here and where we're going. On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised since Stannard is clearly preaching the Christian Ethos.
And this is really my other criticism. In this book Stannard mentions that many of the other world religions simply perceive the One God in different ways, and he stuck pretty rigidly to Christian beliefs and values, and purely Biblical scripture interpretations. If you're Christian, that's fine. But I don't think a Hindu would be particularly satisfied. Stannard's tight adherence to Christian viewpoints is even more surprising to me bearing in mind the diverse range of belief systems found in our multi-racial/cultural modern society. Perhaps the contents of the book merely reflects Stannard's own background and niche in society.
Summing up: a nice book which provokes and stimulates interesting and important trains of theological thought about some of life's important questions. If you're not a Christian, I would still recommend the book as an educational excursion through Christian ideas which may be different to you're own. And like all good children's books, this one can be enjoyed equally by young and old alike.