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Book Chat: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman
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Summary

Tara, an Indian-American Jewish girl growing up in New York, is facing a very important event in her religious life: her bat mitzvah. Tara loves both her Indian and Jewish culture, and wants to find a way to integrate both in her special celebration. But it turns out to be more complex than she originally thinks. Tara’s mom thinks her bat mitzvah should be all Jewish, and she should save her Indian side for other times. Her friends question if she’s “Jewish enough” to have a bat mitzvah, and Tara isn’t sure what she should do. Can she trust her gut and include both her Indian and Jewish side in her celebration?
Basmati


Favorite Character

Tara – I love how much she embraces her Indian and Jewish culture, and thinks hard about how to bring both of them into her bat mitzvah. She’s also an amazing friend – even to the girls at her school who are not nice to her.

Favorite Line 

 

Paula J Freedman often uses Tara’s lines to educate the audience to think critically about comments they may hear from their classmates. I particularly love this line,

“Gran once taught me a handy trick that I use all the time. She said to take any remark you suspect might be racist and substitute the word Jew. If you’re insulted by it, it’s probably racist. I wouldn’t stand for anyone saying all Jews were terrorists, or all Indians for that matter, so I stood up and let Ryan Berger have it, accidentally-on-purpose knocking the tray back into his stupid face” 

Fun Author Fact

Just as Tara’s family creates Jewish meals with Indian flavors, Paula Freedman creates Indian-Jewish recipes. On her website, she has a recipe for “Not Your Mother’s Matzoh Ball Soup” – which in Indian sambhar with matzoh balls! She also includes Tara’s favorite snack – popcorn with masala 🙂

Is this worth a book hangover?

I loved this book as a middle-grade read, and would love to share it with any middle schoolers in my life. While it’s not a book I’ll go back to regularly, I’m SO GLAD a book about a bi-racial girl celebrating her two identities together exists. 

Read These Next

For another book about a girl grappling with her identity, check out The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma. Nithya’s life is set – she plans to be a doctor and make her Indian-American immigrant family proud.  Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Lovetorn

Lovetorn

Lovetorn by Kaita Daswani

Summary

 

Shalili’s family moves from Bangelore, India to Los Angeles, California right before her junior year in high school, and everything is different. Shalili has to leave her  home, where she lived a comfortable life with her large extended family, plenty of servants, and a happy childhood. She also has to leave Vikram, a boy she’s been engaged to (and in love with) since she was three years old.

Although Shalili puts  on a brave face for her parents, she’s not happy in America. Her classmates tease her, her mother’s health is deteriorating, and she feels like she’ll never fit in. Will she ever feel like she’s at home in Los Angeles?

 

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I found the romance between Shalili and Vikram a little hard to believe. I do know that there are still girls who are engaged at a very young age in India, but to my knowledge, families that are that conservative don’t allow their sons and daughters to have extensive contact with each other before they are married. It was hard for me to picture the relationship between the two of them, and honestly, Vikram was a little boring for me. Shalili’s other love interest in the book was a bit more interesting, but I think the romance was rushed and a bit staged, and I didn’t feel closure at the end of the book.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

One thing I really liked about Lovetorn is that no one rescues Shalili – she learns how to feel at home herself. She makes an effort to take care of her family, stand up to bullies, and make friends without changing who she is via a makeover or pretending to like things she doesn’t.

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Diversity Score:  Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was surprised and impressed with a book that covers mental illness and depression in the Indian (and Indian-American) community, as well as the topics you’d expect in a book about an immigrant family.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite it’s title, Lovetorn is ultimately an immigrant story of a family learning to live in the United States. Shalili, her sister, and parents are sympathetic characters who have to face the everyday challenges of immigrating to a new place. Although the romance wasn’t really a highlight of the book, I enjoyed reading a new immigrant story. As I discussed in our earlier post, we need more stories about Indian-American kids, so more people can feel like their stories are reflected in YA literature.


Favorite Character

Shalili, the main character of the book. Not only does Shalili have to face a new school in a new country, but she quickly takes on the major domestic respo’nsibilities when her mother gets ill. She balances a lot of pressure at school, in clubs, in her love life, and at home. I really liked her earnest and (sometimes cringe-worthy) sweetness to the people she cares about.

Favorite Line

‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ Mr. Jeremy continued. ‘India is great. My grandparents are there, lots of relatives. It’s totally booming, especially cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. Compared to what it was ten years ago, it’s crazy how much progress there is. But I have to tell you, I wouldn’t give up in American for anything. India can be kind of aggravating, trying to get anything done. It’s still a Third World country. You guys are lucky you’re here. ‘ He paused for a minute to place an overflowing spoon full of rice into his mouth. 

I turned to look at my mother. Her nostrils were flared, her jaw clenched.

‘You think you have done us a favor, do you?’ she said bitterly. […] ‘You think you have done us a great favor by bringing us here, as if we were beggars in need of rescuing? Is that what you are saying?’ my mother asked again.”

I think too many Americans (immigrants included)  get trapped in the idea that the United States is absolutely the best place on Earth, and everyone wants to come and live here. I like how this passage tackles that stereotype, and reminds us that the places that not everyone in other countries is poor, unhappy, and desperately trying to live in the Western world.

 Fun Author Fact

According to her website, author Kavita Daswani is an international journalist who writes about  fashion, beauty, travel, design and celebrities for a range of global publications.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. From our review:

Leila feels like an outsider. She is the only Iranian-American at her ultra-rich, preppy private high school. She is also attracted to women, but is worried that her conservative immigrant family and her high school friends would not accept her. One day, a beautiful, wild new girl named Saskia joins the class. Saskia is full of adventure and fun – and Leila quickly falls head over heels for her.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: The Rearranged Life

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 The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

Summary

Nithya is a smart, driven college senior with a plan: She wants to be a doctor. Her family has worked hard to give her all the best of American life – the top tutors, the best education, and even the freedom to live as both an American girl and an Indian immigrant daughter. Her only restriction is that she must marry a boy from her traditional Indian-American community. And Nithya has no problem with this – she’s always loved and respected her parents, and believes that her dreams and their dreams can align. Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for.

rearranged life

heartRomance Score: Good Effort 

While I wasn’t super impressed with the way these two initially connected,  I really liked how the romance between Nithya and James built throughout the story. It felt like a true “college romance” for me – with a lot of studying, late night hangouts, and even a reference to Penn State’s “Thon”. I also loved the initial connections between Nithya and James’s family. I would have loved to see the next chapter of this romance, but maybe there will be a part two? Please?

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Nithya knows what she wants, and will do what she can to get it. At the same time, she maintains respect for the traditions of her family and the sacrifices that they’ve made to give her opportunities. My only qualm is that I thought the initial meeting between the two – where Nithya was almost date raped – was a little too “damsel in distress” for me.
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Diversity Score: A+ Success

I loved that this story really dug into the challenges that (some) Indian-American girls face when dating boys from outside their communities. The novel really captures the nuances of the struggle. Nithya faces a few challenges here – not only does she not want to disappoint her parents, but she also doesn’t want to take advantage of their kindness. They have let their daughter assimilate with mainstream American culture with only a single restriction- and now she’s broken it. And in breaking that, Nithya faces the challenges of both no longer fitting into the traditional mold for a desi girl, but also trying to how to keep her culture intact in a potential interracial marriage… all at the age of 21.

As an Indian-American girl (who recently married a not very Indian-American, very adorable Caucasian boy), I really loved the perspective of this story. We need more stories talking about the lives of Indian-Americans (and all minorities) with respect and nuance for the traditions of each culture and the challenges them.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

While my life doesn’t exactly reflect Nithya’s, I loved finding a story about Indian-Americans that reflected the world that my friends and I live in. I have a few small qualms with it (some of the dialogue seems scripted and a few plot points weak), but these are minor issues of a first-time author. I was thoroughly impressed, and can’t wait to read anything else Annika Sharma writes.


Favorite Character

Anisha. First – There is finally a character with my name in a book!!! And second – She is sweet, funny and a good contrast to her serious sister.

Favorite Line

“… I made no apologies for who I am. He says it’s his favorite thing about me and though I won’t admit it, it’s my favorite thing about me, too. And when you find someone who values the same things in yourself that you do , there’s a burst of happiness that’s hard to put out. We shine together and separately.”

 Fun Author Fact

According to her blog, Annika wrote The Rearranged Life in the month before starting graduate school. That is some insane (Nithya-like) productivity.

She also has a crush on Emma Watson and the Duchess of Cambridge, which means she has excellent taste.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (our review here).  Leila is the only Iranian-American in her ultra-rich, preppy high school… and she also happens to like girls. What happens when a new beautiful and wild student joins her school?

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, Romance