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American as Paneer Pie (2020)

av Supriya Kelkar

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
443457,296 (4.17)Ingen/inga

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Lekha Divekar lives in a small, Midwestern town and has always divided herself into two people. The kid she is at school, where she ignores the teasing, tries to hide the fact that she's the only Indian-American in the whole school, and basically keeps her head down all the time. At home, she's free to love Bollywood and enjoy her own culture.
When a new girl, Avantika, moves in across the street and attends Lekha's school, she's thrilled. Finally, she won't be the only Desi (Indian living abroad) in her school. But Avantika isn't at all what she expected. She's not Americanized and doesn't try to be. She's got an accent, she stands up to the bullies, and instead of hiding in the background with Lekha, she draws them both into the spotlight. Lekha's school difficulties are made even worse when prejudice against immigrants skyrockets and a local senator starts stirring up violence against them.

Lekha is running up against trouble in all quarters. She gets pressure, racism, and bullying from the girls on swim team, her mother is too scared to leave the house, and her best friend's "help" just makes things worse, when he publicizes the xenophobia her family is experiencing. Even time spent with her Desi friends and relatives isn't comfortable anymore, as she starts to realize they have their own prejudices and microaggressions against recent immigrants like Avantika.

Lekha has to make some difficult decisions and figure out how to reconcile the different parts of herself, her culture, and her friends before she can find her voice and start to move forward with her family, relationships, and her dreams.

This is kind of what I was talking about with Gillian McDunn's new book, The Queen Bea and Me. Like that book, this is also pitch-perfect for the angst and friendship troubles of middle school. However, it has an added dimension of diversity and Lekha's unique perspective and experiences. There are some hopeful signs near the end, regarding the prejudice Lekha's family has suffered - one neighbor who was previously a supporter of the xenophobic senator remembers the prejudice suffered by his own Sicilian immigrant ancestors and supports the family and one of the girls who has been harassing Lekha (the girl's mom lost her job in a factory due to "immigrants taking all the jobs") is rescued from a breakdown on the highway by Lekha's family and they come to be better friends and learn their prejudices are unrealistic.

This last feels... wrong. It's just wrong that people have to get to know people who are different to realize that they're not evil. But it's realistic. Harper and her mom may well still support Senator Winters. They may well still be racist and xenophobic, arguing that "those people" aren't like the "nice Indians" they know. But it's a small step in the right direction. Lekha is still shy. She still makes mistakes and missteps, and she recognizes that she has her own prejudices to overcome. But she's taken a big step in combining the two different sides of her life, is more comfortable with herself as an Indian-American, and has started to stand up for herself.

Verdict: This has all the friendship angst that middle schoolers know so well, but with some thoughtful and relevant commentary on current events. I think this will resonate with minority students, as well as offer more perspective to majority students on how they treat other kids and their own role as allies and what that means. There's also humor and plenty of middle school embarrassment and worries for all kids to relate to.

ISBN: 9781534439382; Published June 2020 by Aladdin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library
  JeanLittleLibrary | Dec 5, 2020 |
Indian-American sixth-grader Lekha (LAY-khaa) is really two people: shy "School Lekha" and outgoing "Home Lekha." When her new neighbor turns out to be a girl her age who has just moved from India, Lekha is worried that they will be lumped together and made fun of at school. (Lekha's friend and neighbor Noah wants to write op-eds about injustice and standing up for what's right, but has a hard time putting words into action when it comes to standing up to bullies on his or Lekha's behalf.) But Avantika (uh-VUHNT-ih-kah) is more confident than Lekha (or Noah); she easily corrects people who mispronounce her name, and talks back to kids who try to make fun of her. Meanwhile, Lekha has finally made the Dolphins swim team but has trouble navigating the waters with her white teammates - Harper, Kendall, and Aidy - some of whom make fun of her and whose families support the anti-immigrant candidate for senator. At last, a hate crime spurs Lekha to write her own op-ed and deliver it at a town hall event with the senator.

Back matter includes Paneer Pie recipe (paneer and pizza dough)

See also: Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan


I wouldn't have the courage to stick up for her since I didn't have any to stand up for myself, let alone a stranger at school...[I was] being force-fed a friendship I just wasn't interested in. (43)

"Why do you cover up everything that makes you YOU? So what if....people know you're Indian?" (Avantika to Lekha, 124)

"Do you want to fit in with us or do you want to fit in with her?" (Aidy to Lekha, 149)

Maybe Aai was right not to tell the police. To just be quiet about it all. Maybe Aai was right to be so scared. (Lekha re: her mother, 214)

...what was the point in trying to explain something to someone who wouldn't change? (259)

"A lot of people think only one thing about me. You don't know. You haven't grown up with them."
"That may be true, but you have to think more of yourself." (Lekha and Avantika, 279)

Why couldn't I just be brave all the time? I knew why. Because it was hard. It was hard to speak out against things that were wrong. It was hard to speak up for things that were right." (281)

"Those what-ifs are awful, aren't they? ...There are so many bad what-ifs that pop into my head all the time. But if you just think about the bad what-ifs, you miss out on the good what-ifs. Likes, 'What if Lekha changes the world?'" (Aai, 288) ( )
  JennyArch | Oct 19, 2020 |
Lehka is an Indian-American girl growing up in a mostly white neighborhood and has always felt pulled between her at home persona enjoying her culture and her school persona of hiding it. When a new girl moves into town from India, Lehka is both drawn to her confidence against bullies and fear of being associated with someone "fresh off the boat." When a racist incident occurs, Lehka must make a choice to embrace her identity and culture to stand up against the anti-immigrant sentiment in her town, all while navigating tricky issues of identity and living in two cultures.

This novel does a great job describing Indian customs, meals, holidays, and experiences, immersing the reader in Lehka's home life and Indian culture. It is also a heartfelt story about friendship, family, and identity. ( )
  sylliu | Jul 3, 2020 |
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