First of all, I love the title. In case you missed the references, “SAHM” is the acronym for Stay At Home Mother, which I used to be, and “Sam I Am” is a character in one of the Dr. Seuss books that most SAHMs have read out loud a thousand times so … like most jokes, it doesn’t work if you have to explain it.
The structure of this novel is unusual: the entire novel is made up of emails exchanged among a group of women. The five main characters are all members of a large mailing list for Christian SAHMs, administered by tireless Supermom Rosalyn. They also have a private mailing list just among the five of them, where they share their real thoughts and struggles, and make catty comments about Rosalyn’s inspiring messages to the main list.
If you haven’t participated in the subculture of online message-boards and mailing lists, you will probably may find the format of SAHM I Am hard to get into. It drew me in instantly because I have been involved in this subculture since the late 90s, and I honestly believe that online message boards saved my sanity when I was a SAHM, providing those links to the outside world and thoughtful adult conversations that stay-at-home moms often miss. The forums I participated in were message boards rather than mailing lists, and involved a more diverse group of women (all the characters in SAHM I Am are middle-class American evangelical Christians). But there were enough similarities that I had no difficulty recognizing both the style of the book and the cyber-world in which it’s set, and Meredith Efken does a great job of capturing both.
Despite the fact that the whole story unfolds through emails, each character’s voice comes through distinctly and we get to know each woman, her husband and family, her life, her feelings and her struggles. There’s a lot of humour in this book but also a lot of serious issues, and the fact that it’s an inspirational novel doesn’t mean there’s a false sense of “We’re all happy because we’re Christians.” Although the five main characters are culturally very similar, they are also very diverse, not least in terms of how happy they are with their role as SAHMs — while one longs to be free from full-time parenting and live her own life, another grieves when her husband insists on enrolling their home-schooled children in school, because she doesn’t want to miss a minute of their childhood. I found the women’s diverse takes on stay-at-home parenting very true to life.
Efken writes with warmth, humour and sensitivity about this truly twenty-first century phenomenon — a group of women who have never met face-to-face, yet who are genuinely close friends. I found very little to criticize in this book — I thought the character of Rosalyn, and the subplot about her relationship with her sister, would have been both funnier and more effective if it had been more subtle rather than over-the-top, but that’s about it for criticisms. I am looking forward to more Meredith Efken!