Rummanah Aasi
 As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.
    When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha. To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.
    When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Review: Like many first generation immigrants, Indian American Lekha is having trouble with navigating her two worlds. Lehka's family is the only Indian American family in her predominantly white suburb of Detroit. She is comfortable in expressing her Indian culture and flavorful foods at home. When she is at school, however, she tries her best to fade in the background and silence her voice as her classmates mock her for her bindi shaped-birthmark on her forehead. She allows teachers and students to mispronounce her name and to make disrespectful comments about her heritage. Lekha knows she should speak out but wouldn't that just make the situation worse?
  When a new Indian American family-with a daughter Lehka's age-moves to her neighborhood, she is thrilled, assuming that her new friend Avantika will also struggle like Lekha, but Avantika confidently talks about her family and traditions at school and fights back against microaggressions. Lehka is simultaneously inspired and confused. As she begins taking tentative steps toward speaking up about what matters to her, a classroom assignment to write an opinion piece becomes the catalyst for embracing her identity. 
  I could relate a lot to both Lekha's and Avantika's characters. The safety in being invisible is real and strong. Sadly, that's how I acted in my predominately white high school. What is most distressing is that I acted subconsciously and started with the best things such as clothes and music. It took me a while to reach Avantika's confidence but I am still working on it. There are two scenes that really hit me hard in the book such as downplaying a holiday that should be celebrated and decorating for the holiday. Lekha pleads with her parents to not put up a swastika (which in India represents prosperity, well being, and good luck) and on their family door for Diwali in fears of it being misinterpreted as a Nazi symbol. Both of these scenes highlight what it feels like to the "other" and having to feel that you can only choose one side (assimilation) and not both. I also appreciated that Avantika is not perfect. She also has her struggle in confronting colorism by using skin bleach cream to lighten her skin and standing up to her mother. I wish this was also explored more and we see Avantika use her own voice to speak out against internalized racism. 
 Despite these issues, American as Paneer Pie is a good book club pick where students can talk about race/ethnicity, microaggressions, and assimilation. Things do not wrap up in a bow at the end, but Lekha is starting to use her voice and stand up for herself.
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some bullying and microaggressions present in the book. There is also a racist incident in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan, A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
1 Response
  1. I like the sounds of this one. I think hiding who we are in public settings is a common theme for people and it's such a shame.

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails