Last week, I ordered four books via interlibrary loan. Two of them came in; I’m still waiting for the other two, and so I ordered four more yesterday. I try to read mostly adult titles during my library’s Summer Reading program- in the past, the sheet has said that only adult titles count, not YA. It doesn’t say that this year, so I’m letting one or two slip in there, but I’m mainly trying to keep to the spirit of it all. That said, most of the books at my library left on my TBR are YA, and I haven’t had a chance to head to an out-of-town library, which means *cue ominous music* I was left to wander the stacks without a list of books.
That’s not a bad thing, but sometimes I just wander and wander and get so overwhelmed by all the choices that I have no idea what to choose. And wandering the stacks was how I came upon On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life by Rupinder Gill (Riverhead Books, 2011).
Rupinder’s parents were strict, so strict that she and her three sisters spent most of their childhood cleaning and watching TV, unable to leave their basement and participate in school activities or visit with friends. Dance lessons, field trips, class camping trips, piano lessons, sleepovers, all requests were denied for reasons both cultural and economic, leaving Rupinder and her sisters feeling alienated from their classmates for more than just being the only Indian faces in town. Turning 30, Rupinder begins to realize how few chances she had taken throughout her life, how small her life had become. Making a list of all the things she’d wanted to do during her childhood but hadn’t been able to, she sets forth to finally tackle some of those things.
Tap class. Swimming lessons. Getting a dog. A Disney vacation, a move to a big city, attending camp and a sleepover. Rupinder’s life slowly fills throughout the year, and she begins to bloom with newfound self-confidence and understanding of some of her parents’ past reasoning. It’s not perfect: swimming is scary, she comes to the conclusion that maybe her parents were right about getting a dog (no worries here, the majority of her dog experience comes from dogsitting her sister’s dog, not getting her own and then regretting it. Getting a pet is something she puts a lot of consideration into, moreso than most pet owners, I think!), and she takes a few leaps that will change everything, but it’s worth it. Reliving the childhood she never had forces Rupinder out of the box she’d become far too comfortable in.
This was fun! I really enjoyed reading about the Gill family dynamics and what their particular version of two immigrant Indian parents and a passel of Indian-by-heritage-but-more-culturally-Canadian children looked like. While I was allowed to visit friends’ houses and attend sleepovers when I was young, I wasn’t allowed to join softball or take karate, two things I very much wanted to do, so I could definitely relate to her frustration there. Her joy (and occasional discomfort) at learning new skills like tap dancing and swimming and the major leaps she took (the move, her job, emailing someone at Disney about free tickets) were a pleasure to read and made me wonder what I’m missing out on by not trying.
There were a few parts where this skipped around in time and threw me off, particularly a description of a trip to India with Ms. Gill’s mother, which left me flipping pages and wondering if this was taking place in the present or the past. There’s no major final conclusion to the end, no life-changing realization or calming sense of closure earned by finally being able to participate in such long-denied activities, but Ms. Gill seems satisfied by the path she’s started down, and it seems to have worked for her: throughout the course of the book, she decided that she wanted to leave her career as a television publicist and instead write for TV. As I was doing a Google search to find her online, I learned that she’s one of the writers for Schitt’s Creek, which I watched and very much enjoyed earlier this year. Well done, Ms. Gill!
While this wasn’t my favorite memoir of all time (and I think a lot of the Goodreads reviews are a little too harsh), it was relaxing reading, although at times wistful and occasionally saddening when it came to the racism Rupinder and her sisters experienced (seriously, people? CAN WE NOT ACT LIKE THAT???). I admire anyone who has such follow-through, and as Schitt’s Creek will end with its sixth season, I’m thinking we’ll see more awesome things from Rupinder Gill down the road.
What are some things you weren’t allowed to do when you were young? Have you ever considered doing them now??? (I have zero desire to play softball these days, and I’m not sure my back could handle any kind of martial arts, so I’m good there. The dream of one day attending Concordia Language Villages is still there, however…)