Friday, May 8, 2009

Born Confused by Tanuia Desai Hidier

Dimple Lala just wants to be a normal American teen, but her traditional Indian family keeps putting a glitch into her ideal. Dimple wants desperately to be like her best friend, Gwyn, who is blonde and thin- very much Dimple's idea of the American girl. Gwyn, however, is trying to find her own identity and loves the traditional culture and look of Dimple's family. Just when Dimple is beginning to succeed at pulling away from her family's traditions, being Indian becomes cool. Gwyn suddenly wants to borrow Dimple's traditional clothing and accessories, and Dimple's parents find a "suitable boy" for her to meet. Dimple loves her family, and does not want to hurt them, so she puts up with meeting the suitable boy, Karsh. Karsh comes to meet Dimple and her family with his family. He does not meet Dimple's expectation for the American boy she want to be with someday. Karsh is very Indian, down to his appropriate clothes. Dimple dismisses him as a nerdy guy she would not be interested in. She soon changes her mind when she finds out that Karsh, like Dimple, has another side to him. Karsh turns out to be one of the hottest Indian DJ's in New York City. This artistic side appeals to Dimple as she herself is an artist. Dimple wants to be a photographer. She finds that she likes Karsh after all. However, Dimple has already told her friend, Gwyn, that she would have nothing to do with Karsh, and Gwyn thinks Karsh is up for grabs. What should Dimple do? Tell Gwyn that, sorry, she wants to go after Karsh after all? or let Gwyn pursue Karsh? Making matters more complicated, Gwyn and Karsh seem to be hitting it off. Suddenly, Gwyn is acting like the good Indian girl that Dimple's parents wish she would be. Dimple always wanted to just be American, but maybe it's not so bad to mix the two cultures after all. Dimple is conflicted about betraying her true self, but first she needs to figure out what her true self is. Is she purely American, Indian, or a mixture of the two?

I loved this book and was almost sad to finish it. Although she is confused about herself, Dimple stable character contrasts greatly with Gwyn's self destructiveness. The story has a great lesson in discovering that people are not always as they seem and that a person does not have to claim one single identity to "fit in" or please others. Nothing is simple in this story, and, in the end, the characters learn that is okay. The author's writing will pull you into Dimple's life, and you will find yourself rooting for her in whatever she wants to do. Hidier is very good at portraying the angst and desires that go along with being a teen.

Book; 13+; ISBN 9780439510110; New York: Scholastic Press, 2003

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Wouldn't it be nice to have a friend who you know will always be there for you? Someone you know you can count on throughout your life? Told from the point of view of 80 year old Lily, this is the story of two “old sames,” Lily and Snow Flower. The two girls’ families match them in an arrangement meant to create lifelong friends and provide an opportunity for Lily, whose family is not as high of status as Snow Flower’s family. The girls become fast friends and correspond with each other throughout their lives through secret letters written in the folds of a fan. They write in a secret form, called nu shu—created by women over a thousand years before—to protect their conversation from the male dominated society in which they live. As Lily describes her life, we learn about what it was like to be a woman in 19th century China, specifically in the Hunan province. We suffer with her through foot binding, an experience that can be difficult for some to read. We follow Lily and Snow Flower from young girls to old women, through marriages and children, and hardships. When Lily marries higher than Snow Flower, their friendship takes a hit, but they survive through that and more.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and a great way to learn about old Chinese traditions (you will cringe as Lily goes through foot binding- a barbaric practice in which the bones of the feet are broken then the feet are wrapped tightly to force them to stay small forever). There are enought twists to keep you interested. The story was written so beautifully that I found myself looking to see if it was based on a traditional story or legend- nope, the author is just a great storyteller!

Book; 13+; ISBN 9780812968064; New York: Random House, 2006

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Morning GIft by Eva Ibbotson

20 year old Ruth Berger is left behind to brave the Nazis when her plans to escape Vienna and meet up with her Jewish family and fiancée go wrong. Luckily for her, an old family friend, a professor at the college where her father taught, comes to her aid. They come up with the idea to wed, move to Great Britain to get her out of Nazi territory then have their marriage annulled so she can then go to her family and fiancée. However, this story is a romance so things cannot be as simple as that! Of course, Ruth and her rescuer (I don’t want to give his identity away) become attracted to each other. They also have trouble getting their marriage annulled. Complicating matters is that Ruth becomes his student when she enrolls in college in England. There are plenty of obstacles in Ruth's path, and it is never quite clear until the end just who Ruth will end up spending her life with- or even what she wants.

This book has a slow start (it begins when Ruth is a little girl and goes into her family’s background), but it is well worth sticking with. You’ll be into it by the third chapter, I promise! The story never gets too dark in spite of the serious time in which it is set. Ibbotson is excellent at getting her readers emotionally involved into her stories and you will find yourself rooting for the protagonists and wanting to boo at the antagonist, a very annoying student at Ruth's college. This book is both light enough to be a summer read and meaty enough to satisfy readers looking for something to bite into and think about.

Book; 14+; ISBN 978-0142409114; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

During the Holocaust, Nazis did not only target Jews. They sent many other groups to concentration camps as well. In late 1930s, Nazi Germany, Liesel’s has lost her family. Her father, accused of being a communist, is sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and her brother has died. Liesel goes to live with a foster family. She has a habit of stealing books, and stole her first book before she was even able to read—a gravedigger’s manual from her brother’s funeral. Her foster father uses this manual to teach Liesel to read. The story is told by Death (you know, the Grim Reaper) as Liesel lives through the war years. Liesel gains an eclectic group of friends and supporters, including the Jewish man hiding in her foster family’s house.

This is a book that is difficult to explain without ruining its experience. It was originally published for adults, but in the U.S. is published for young adults, maybe because it is about a child. Parts can be disturbing, and the book is great to read with others with whom you can discuss it. The Book Thief stands out from the herd of other Holocaust and World War II books, and I highly recommend it.

Book; 14+; ISBN 978-0375842207; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Secret Keeper is about Asha Gupta and her family's move from cosmopolitan Delhi to live with her uncle's family in Calcutta while her father looks for work in New York. The plan is for Asha, her sister, Reet, and their mother to join Baba (the affectionate term for an Indian father, kind of like "Dad") in New York once he finds a job. However, finding a job takes longer than expected and Asha must learn to cope with living in her uncle's house with her critical aunt and grandmother. As her family runs out of money, they are increasingly dependent upon her uncle's charity. Furthermore, this is the 1970s, and the Gupta family follows traditional Indian customs, such as arranged marriages, while Asha and Reet are ready for the changing, modern world. Soon, the family is looking for a suitable match for Reet, who is not ready for marriage. Accentuating the clash between traditional and modern worlds, Asha has met the boy next door and begins to have feelings for him while also dreaming of going to college to become a psychologist. When tragedy strikes the Guptas, they must find a way to pull together, even if that means making more sacrifices with their dreams.

This story will suck you in and make you want to read late to see what will happen to Asha, Reet, and their family. Will Baba get a job before his daughters are married off in Calcutta? Will Asha find a way to go to college? There are no easy answers for the characters in this book, but that is a part of what makes it so endearing. Perkins wrote a book that flows very well and does not waste the reader's time. There are no "long" parts to this book. Every word is important to the story. Mains themes include tradition, culture, depression, sacrifice and family.

Book; 12+; ISBN 978-0385733403; New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.