MIDDLE GRADE REALISTIC FICTION : American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar

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ABOUT THE BOOK

An Indian-American girl who struggles to navigate her two very different lives: the one at home, where she can be herself, and the one at school, where she is teased for her culture. When a racist incident rocks her small town, she must decide to continue to remain silent or find her voice.

REVIEW

This book was eye-opening in a lot of ways.  The themes that permeate the book are so relevant to the world today.  The story revolves around Lekha Divekar, a young Indian American girl who wants so badly to belong with her classmates.  Her parents are immigrants from India and have kept many of their traditions.  Lekha enjoys many of these traditions but she dislikes having to always answer questions about her traditions and beliefs.  She's also been bullied and stereotyped by those around her.  She does her best to quietly slip through life, hoping against hope that someday she'll feel like she fits in.  When a new girl moves into the neighborhood, Lekha is excited to discover that she is no longer the only Desi in the area.  But Avantika is much less willing than Lekha to go with the status quo and Lekha struggles to be welcoming while not disturbing the waters too much. 

While Lekha struggles with her home and school lives, a local election brings issues of immigration blaming out into the open and when Lekha's family experiences acts of hate, Lekha must face her own fears.  Luckily for her she has some great friends to help her out, if she's willing to step forward and accept their help. Themes related to microaggressions, cultural misunderstandings, intolerance, as well as friendship, standing up for oneself, and finding one's place in the world seep through the story in important ways.  The details related to Lekha's Desi heritage including language, holiday celebrations, religious beliefs, and physical characteristics are beautifully integrated into the story.  Not only did I get a glimpse into what it's like to be a Desi in America, but what it's like to be caught between two cultures while not feeling wholly comfortable in either.

This title is an excellent example of what the We Need Diverse Books movement is all about, giving young readers a book that can be either a window or a mirror.  An excellent contribution to the growing number of diverse titles available for middle grade readers.

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