This week, we're going to start doing a new segment: Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM). Our first MMGM is for Paula J. Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah!
MMGM is hosted by author Shannon Messenger at her blog. Go check it out!
Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: October 1st 2013 by Amulet Books
Fortunately for me, Abrams kindly granted my review request for the book, and I devoured the book in one day.
Plot overview: (via Goodreads)
Things that worked:
Tara Feinstein is a delightfully engaging character, from the first page. She's smart and curious about the world around her, and not afraid to show it.
Freedman has given Tara a strong, internal voice that showcases her diversity - e.g she's constantly talking about how she likes Indian food and likes Jewish traditions - but also makes her wholly relatable. I loved how Tara struggled with the day-to-day issues in her life - e.g. friendships; getting along with her family - but also wasn't afraid to tackle the larger issues, e.g. faith.
Freedman also sketches out Tara's moments of self-realization and growth in a way that I think readers will both understand, and also admire.
As for the secondary characters, I thought they were all well-rounded and engaging characters in their own right. For a fairly light-hearted book, there are some serious sub-plots involving the secondary characters, which I think were all handled in a way that were both informative and respectful.
* The parental factor
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I love any book which features parents who actively get involved in their children's lives. We have that parental involvement here in spades. Tara's entire extended family play a positive, constant role in her life. And more importantly, they do it (largely) without bickering.
I could go on and on about how and why I loved Freedman's depictions of Tara's family, but I won't.
Instead, I'll just say that I especially loved the fact that there was a scene where Tara felt that she couldn't necessarily go to her mother about an issue. So instead, she went to her grandmother. I think this sends a strong message to younger readers that even when you feel like you can't confide in one adult in your life, there are still other adults whom you can talk to. You are never alone.
* The cultural element
Both Indian and Jewish culture play a huge part in Freedman's book, and I loved how she depicted both of them.
First, I deeply appreciate the fact that Freedman made it seem like it was no big deal that Tara was a product of both of these cultures.
More often than not, books involving protagonists from multiple cultures seem to focus on the difficulties of juggling both cultures, rather than the positives. And while there's nothing wrong with that approach, having an author go in the opposite direction was definitely a refreshing change. I believe that anyone from two cultures, who isstruggling with their cultural identity, will appreciate the positive message that Freedman sends.
I also loved the fact that Freedman made a pretty substantial effort to incorporate some of the more key historical/sociological points of both cultures. She managed to reference both the Partition of India, and Jewish ideology, which is fairly heady material for a MG/YA book. Yet, she also did it in a way that was both informative and true to the plot.
* The ending
The ending was a perfect culmination/of everything that the book had been leading up to. I loved how the ending wrapped everything up, and tied things together perfectly.
* The cover
A huge bravo to Abrams for selecting a cover model who looks exactly like how the main character is described. This is a cover which I think will make a lot of people searching for diversity in YA, very happy.
Things to consider:
Initially, I agreed with the assessment while I was reading. Tara did seem a little oblivious to things that were blatantly obvious to me. However, after thinking about it, I actually think that her slight cluelessness was perfect for her age.
After all, which twelve-year-old knows everything? I know that when I was twelve, I certainly would have never figured out if a friend liked me or not. So I think that readers - especially the younger ones - will absolutely relate to both Tara's uncertainty as she tries to figure things out, while also loving the book when she does figure things out.
I highly recommend this book for all MG/YA contemporary readers, but also for readers who are looking for books that depict multicuturalism in fiction. Freedman beautifully depicts what it is to pay respect to two very separate cultures, and I think readers of all ages will appreciate it.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of My Basmati Bat Mitzvah from Abrams Books via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!