Pashmina

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Pashmina is a lovely graphic novel, visually charming, colourful and offering real insight into growing up as part of the diaspora. Though I visited India as a child and never had the idealised version that Priyanka sees through the magic pashmina and her imaginary companions, the peculiar estrangement of being Indian–but not really struck home.

The warm but also fraught relationship between Priyanka and her single mother was beautifully conveyed. I also loved the depiction of her and her mother’s family friends–like Priyanka we didn’t have relatives here so friends took the place of extended family. The fantasy elements were delicately interwoven and the move from black and white to colour here was absolutely gorgeous. My 10 year old daughter loved it too. 9+

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The Way To Bea

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Beatrix Lee, free spirit, poet, music playlist expert is starting seventh grade, her mother is expecting her new baby sister and she doesn’t have any friends.

At least she used to have a best friend, but the best friend started hanging out with someone else and Bea felt like she made an idiot of herself at a pool party over the summer and since then…they haven’t talked. At all.

And despite the nice librarian who gets her into the school magazine, and the (kind of cool, actually) people she meets there: 8th graders Briggs & Jaime & Will who has his own issues, all she really, really wants is to go back to the time when she had her own ‘person’ and she wasn’t alone.

But someone’s leaving notes in the tumbledown wall where Bea posts her haikus. Is it one of her new magazine friends, who love her poetry? Or Will, with his eccentric schemes to break into a local millionaires mansion and walk the maze? Or….could it be the ‘person’ she thought she’d lost? Bea comes to realise that friendship means knowing that you, yourself are enough and to let her own light shine, no matter what.

The Way To Bea is a lovely middle-grade book about friendship, difference and accepting who we are. 10+

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Amina’s Voice

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Amina’s Voice is a perfectly pitched middle-grade novel about families, friendship and faith. Amina loves piano and singing, her brother Mustafa is into basketball. Both of them manage to balance their interests and school life with the expectations of their Muslim-American parents: good grades and regular attendance at their local mosque. But Amina’s best friend Soojin is  changing her Korean name and hanging out with a former mean girl. Her strict Pakistani uncle disapproves of her interest in music. Amina begins to doubt herself until a devastating attack on their local mosque brings the community together in an unexpected and very welcome way.

This is a sweet, warm and very readable novel of everyday life in a Muslim American household told in (appropriately) a charming, believable middle-grade voice. 9+

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Love, Hate & Other Filters/ Born Confused

 

I thought it would be fun to do a ‘compare and contrast review of these two books, one published all the way back in 2004 and one to be published in January 2018.

I  loved both these books:  romance-driven, fun coming-of age stories of Indian (or South Asian) American girls, one Hindu, one Muslim, negotiating their way between two cultures and community. Both girls have a best friend who is white American and a run-in with a ‘suitable boy’ their parents adore (with varying results) and both girls are into photography/videography, Dimple in Born Confused takes photographs on her beloved film camera, while Maya in Love, Hate & Other Filters is never without her trusty digital video camera.

But let’s start with the covers.

Born Confused’s cover has had a number of iterations but basically has a ‘Bollywood’ style cropped poster of a film actress in (somewhat old fashioned) classically heavy make up with a sari border hiding her lower face.  Love, Hate…. on the other hand has a simpler cover: brown girl plus camera, with a faintly pink wall with some rangoli-type graffiti patterns behind it on the UK cover.

I loved Born Confused’s fun kitsch but imagine young readers will prefer the more generic YA cover of Love Hate & Other Filters? Identity is complicated, and young people working their way through it don’t necessarily want a cover that screams difference.

Both protagonists have great teen voices, Maya in LH &OF is more serious and restrained than Dimple in BC but also has more to contend with than identity issues and love triangles (the ‘hate’ part of the title.

Born Confused is a beautifully digressive, meandering  romp through the era (’90s in the UK, perhaps later in the US) when, briefly, Bollywood, bhangra and bindis were all the rage and not only for us brown people. I adored how everything from cultural appropriation to identity politics & transphobia were discussed and mulled over by (bless) poor confused Dimple. Dimple comes to realise that one’s identity is perhaps more like a ship, navigating through changing waters, with no absolutes but following one’s own star…

Post 9/11 and with the recent resurgence of ISIS, Islamophobia is a real issue in the West, encouraged by not only crazy fringe elements but the mainstream media and politicians. Muslim representation in children’s and YA has become a necessary corrective.

Love, Hate and Other Filters shows how Maya is in some ways perfectly secure in her Indian-Muslim American culture: she wears silk kurthis with jeans and has no hesitation passing on the ‘suitable boy’ her parents introduce her to. But Maya, like Dimple, is isolated in her almost all-white high-school environment and when a terrorist attack strikes a nearby town and the perpetrator is (wrongly) thought to be a Muslim the fear and pain of the hate Maya experiences is made very real…though (thankfully) with a happy if bittersweet ending.

I’d have loved reading these books in my distant teenage past and I’m so happy that my daughter and her friends will get to enjoy them both.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Both 12+

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Ahimsa

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Ahimsa is a rare thing: a historical novel about India aimed at children that doesn’t shy away from not only the harshness of British colonisation but also the horrible prejudice against Dalits, a very real problem in today’s India.

Anjali, our protagonist, is horrified when her mother joins Gandhi’s movement for Indian Independence, especially when it means she can no longer wear her pretty imported ghagra-cholis but only clothes made from homespun khadi. But when her mother insists on trying to help the children of a nearby Dalit settlement, Anjali finds her former prejudice challenged and becomes an advocate for opening up her local school to them.

Along the way she learns that standing up for what you believe in can be hard: when Mohan, a Dalit boy her age who has become her friend, is badly beaten by her neighbours and when her mother is jailed. There are no easy answers here, and although the novel ends on a note of hope, I found it painful reading. A great novel to read alongside your child and essential context for understanding colonialism. 10+

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I Am Alfonso Jones

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This is a marvellously executed journey through the life, death and afterlife of one Alfonso Jones, high-school student, Harlem resident, trumpet-player and bike messenger.  In the early pages of the book we get to know Alfonso as a kid, smart, funny, a history enthusiast who takes us on a tour of Harlem’s sites. We learn that his father has been in jail for Alfonso’s whole life on a wrongful charges and is about to be released due to new DNA evidence. We meet the friend he has a crush on, Danetta, and witness the beginnings of a hip-hop Hamlet his drama class are staging.

Devastatingly, Alfonso is shot by police while shopping for a new suit to wear at the welcome home party for his father. He finds himself aboard a ghost train, populated with other victims of police brutality, taking a ride back through his past, right from the circumstances of his own father’s wrongful arrest and his birth to his own funeral and the subsequent street protests and learning what the chant: ‘no justice, no peace’ means to these trapped souls.

This is all so real and might be overwhelmingly painful, were it not for Alfonso himself, who remains a funny, sassy, very real teen, attending open-mic nights in the afterlife to check no one else is moving on his gal Danetta and hanging around his home trying to make his mother aware of his presence.

The ending, as in real life, doesn’t give us any easy answers, but along the way Medina, Robinson and Jennings give us an education without sparing us the pain of loss and remembrance. 14+

Here’s a link to the book trailer

 

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Planet Middle School

 

Nikki Grimes’s Planet Middle School, originally published in 2011 comes out next year with a brand new cover. This short verse novel tells the tale of Joylin, a tomboy who likes her jeans, basketball and her friends KeeLee and Jake and her life just the way it is:

Up till now,

the math of my life

has been pretty simple:

friends

plus family

plus sports

What more

could I ask for, right?

But now Joy’s body is changing, she needs to wear a bra (yeuch) has a crush on the new boy at school, starts her period:

That’s a good name for it.

It’s the end of life

as I know it.

Grimes’s simple, elegant free verse deals deftly with changes: changing bodies, changing friendships and changing feelings. A great class text and a lovely, warm, immediate read for kids entering adolescence.

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