fiction · middle grade

Book Review: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

I’ve seen My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Harry N. Abrams, 2013) around on various book lists, and so it’s been sitting on my TBR for a bit. Not too long, but long enough that I was getting antsy. I’m always on the lookout for Jewish-themed books geared toward any age, and it’s an extra bonus when the main character is Jewish and; in this case, Jewish and Indian. And that cover- the designs, the colors, the super-adorable model! My library didn’t have a physical copy, but they did have an ebook- all the better for me right now, since the library is only open for pickups of previously ordered material. I’m planning on doing a lot of tackling of the ebooks on my TBR (which is exactly why I’ve been saving those, and why I read so many physical copies while the library was open!).

Tara Feinstein is the daughter of a Jewish-by-birth dad and an Indian-by-birth-and-Jewish-by-choice mother. She’s coming up on her bat mitzvah and has made the decision to go through with the ceremony, only to find out that it wasn’t actually all that much of a choice to begin with. Hmph. Things are a little complicated for Tara right now. She’s questioning a lot of things- her beliefs and what they mean, what being of mixed heritage means, her friendships with Rebecca and Ben-o (who may want to be more than friends, but Tara’s not sure), her enemies…middle school is full of changes.

As her ceremony draws nearer, Tara learns to navigate her family and friend relationships with maturity and grace, occasionally making foibles, but coming out stronger in the end. It’s all about balance, and there’s room for all of her heritage on the bimah.

There’s a lot to like in this book. Tara is sweet, and both sides of her lively family made for an interesting read. I loved the multicultural aspects and the blending of the two families and cultures (and man, I wish there were recipes!). I love that there’s another option on the shelves for young Jews of color to see themselves represented (more of this, please!). And there were a few issues briefly touched on that introduced some serious subjects to a younger crowd in a way that wasn’t too intense (no spoilers here, sorry!).

However, I did feel like the story lacked a bit of direction and occasionally went all over the place. There are a lot of plot lines about friendships and friend drama and family drama with various family members and school drama and enemy drama and boy drama and clothing drama, and after a while it got a little exhausting. I feel like the story would’ve been stronger if there had been less drama and more focus on the bat mitzvah and Tara incorporating both sides of her heritage into this tradition. With so many issues, the story felt scattered and not as tight as it could be. Sarah Darer Littman’s Confessions of a Closet Catholic is a good example of a middle-grade novel that addresses faith but maintains focus better and doesn’t get bogged down by trying to be too much at once.

I did enjoy this, but I had hoped to love it, and only ended up liking it. I did, however, walk away with a craving for all of the food mentioned in the book, especially the souped-up matzoh ball soup mentioned late in the book!

Visit Paula J. Freedman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance

Tikka Chance on Me- Suleikha Snyder

Is there any better feeling than the one you get when your phone signals an email, and you check it and it says, “Your library book has automatically been downloaded to your account”??? This is the second time this year that I’ve gasped, loudly, in sheer, unadulterated excitement due to one of those emails. I’d been on the waiting list for Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (published by Suleikha Snyder, 2018) for…probably over a month, although it was on my TBR list for longer than that. I never mind waiting for library books; it makes me happy that other people are reading and enjoying the book as well, but I was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally looking forward to this. So when it showed up in my email, I had to squee more than a little!

Pinky Grover came home to work in her family’s middle-of-nowhere Indian restaurant when her mother got sick, but now that Mom is better, Pinky is…still there. She bides her time fantasizing bout bad boy Trucker Carrigan, head of the dangerous Eagles motorcycle gang, who comes in constantly to eat with his crew at the restaurant and make eyes at Pinky. On the surface, they’ve got nothing in common and both of them know they should stay away from the other, but the chemistry between them is incendiary. Trucker’s not quite what he seems, and after Pinky figures out his secret, she’s even more all-in, even though she knows the only destination for the two of them is heartbreak in the extreme. Trucker and Pinky ride it out (literally…) as far as their fledgling relationship can go, but when the time comes to say goodbye, how can either of them move on?

Whew, this is spicy and delicious! (Much like my favorite local Indian restaurant, which I haven’t been too in far too long and where I could eat every single day of my life. Indian food is my favorite of all the cuisines.) This is about as far away from a chaste romance as you can get, so choose something else if you prefer that genre. Pinky as a character is an absolute delight; she’s dutiful to her parents but still determined to be her own person and live her own life. Her goals are, for now, on hold, but she hasn’t abandoned them. Trucker (whose real name is Tyson), is an enigma with a surprisingly enchanting center, a not-*quite*-so-bad boy with a heart of steamy, molten-lava sexiness. They’re two people from two entirely different worlds, but Suleikha Snyder has crafted some scorching chemistry between the two of them, and Pinky and Trucker are instantly believable as a couple.

Ms. Snyder has absolutely gained another fan with Tikka Chance on Me. I’m so looking forward to reading more from her. Not only do I admire her writing, she’s so open and honest on Twitter about suffering from anxiety and depression. There have been a few conversations lately between different writers, talking about their struggles, and, as someone who has dealt with lifelong anxiety as well as bouts of major depression that started when I was thirteen (which went mostly ignored by my family, since it was 1993 and no one really knew what to do about such a problem where I lived at that time), seeing people discuss their issues so openly is still such a balm to my soul. I hate that Ms. Snyder has to deal with this, but I’m so, so grateful that she uses her voice to heighten awareness and make others, including me, feel not so alone. It really does help.

To sum it up, Tikka Chance on Me combines the sweet and the spicy in a way that will warm every last cell in your body, and leave you craving both more from the author as well as a plate or twenty of tikka masala (make mine tofu, please).

Visit Suleikha Snyder’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

When Dimple Met Rishi- Sandhya Menon

Do you ever feel like you’re the last person on earth to read a certain book? When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon has been on my radar for ages now, but when it first appeared, I was deep into reading down my massive Goodreads TBR list and didn’t want to deviate from it too much in case I lost momentum (so glad I’m getting to the end of that project!). And although I was crazy backed up with books last week, this book still managed to find its way into my library pile, because I have zero self-control at the library these days (I mean, there are worse places to not be able to say no, right?).

Dimple Shah has never felt like she fit in. Not at school where she gravitates toward tech stuff, not with her family, where her mother is fixated solely on finding her the Ideal Indian Husband (and not at all on Dimple’s potential for a fabulous career as a programmer). It’s a surprise to her when her parents allow her to attend Insomnia Con, a computer coding camp held at a university during the summer between the end of her senior year of high school and the beginning of her college life at Stanford. Dimple’s ready to take on the coding world, creating an app that will change lives and that will get her some attention from her coding inspiration, Jenny Lindt.

Rishi Patel is a traditional rule-following eldest son, bound and determined to live out his parents’ dreams for him even if it costs him his own dreams. Family means something, right? Not that his younger brother Ashish gets that. But Rishi, whose talents are better suited to art, is off to Insomnia Con. He’s on a mission…one that Dimple isn’t at all aware of, and that will begin with her throwing iced coffee in his face. After a rough start, Dimple and Rishi set a few ground rules that allow them to develop at least the start of a friendship, one that slowly blossoms into something else. But Dimple has plans, plans that don’t involve marriage (maybe not ever!), and she’s not entirely sure if Rishi is the kind of guy who can let her be herself…or even fully be himself.

When Dimple Met Rishi is about identity, the one we’re born with, the one our family assigns us, and all the different identities we wear and develop through life. I was surprised to see the negative reviews of this on Goodreads. While Dimple could be abrasive at times, I have yet to meet a person who can’t (I, ahem, kind of have an enormous sarcastic streak that catches some people off-guard, because I appear so nice and sweet!). And other reviewers are constantly mentioning Dimple bemoaning how she’s not like other girls. I didn’t read that at all. What I saw in Dimple was a girl who struggles with what she feels her mother and her community expects from her, someone who feels pressured and trapped into a role that she knows doesn’t fit who she is- and when we feel trapped, sometimes we lash out. I saw a girl who felt alienated because there weren’t many other girls into tech where she was (I’m sure that varies wildly by where you live), and whose family background made her different from the majority of kids around her at school (there’s a scene with Rishi where Dimple is so pleased that they can talk about their mothers and how he just gets it, without needing an explanation, and I found her relief at that charming). I understood Rishi’s sense of duty to his parents, even at the cost of his own dreams, whereas some of the reviews called him weak. It may be that I’m older; as an adult, as a parent, our lives are so often about sacrifice (sacrificing sleep, sacrificing your own health, sacrificing your own sanity to watch ANOTHER episode of LoudScreamyCartoonShow) that Rishi didn’t seem unrealistic to me. And the Aberzombies, well… I remember those kids well from high school. They existed. They were loud, obnoxious, acted as though the money their parents had earned made them better than everyone else… Yeah. I didn’t find them off the mark whatsoever.

Maybe this is just a case of readers bringing different things to the story. Maybe I would’ve read this different when I was younger; maybe the readers who dislike it on Goodreads would understand Dimple differently as they grow older. Each story is really a million different stories, isn’t it? A million different stories, and all of them valid.

While I would’ve liked to have seen was Dimple and Rishi working a little more on their app, although I just figured that took place off-screen. A few more scenes of them hard at work would’ve fit well with Dimple’s drive to improve her coding skills. But overall, I enjoyed this. I always enjoy reading stories with Indian characters (whether living in India or Indian by heritage); it’s a beautiful culture and learning more about it never fails to move me in some way. So this worked for me, and I’m honestly a little surprised at the vitriol I’m reading in so many Goodreads reviews.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts, because I’m feeling like I seriously missed something, in regards to those other reviews (although a friend of mine read and rated it four stars, so that makes me feel better!).

Check out Sandhya Menon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.