Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Image“‘And in the meantime and always,’ she counseled me.’–Focus on your strengths’

‘Which is?’

‘Taking pictures, yaar! You are very lucky to have a passion like this and be so good at it.  Now use it.  You know what you want to do.  Now do it. Acts of love will lead you to more love.  Turn your pain and confusion into beauty and power, like I am trying to do with this breakup. ‘”

Dimple is a seventeen-year-old Indian American, and her parents have found the perfect husband for her.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t looking for a husband, nor is she intrigued by the idea.  However, when her supertwin best friend decides that she is interested in Dimple’s future husband, things get sticky.  In the meantime, Dimple sorts out what it means to be South Asian, but raised in the United States. She learns her parents are actually people, with pasts and dreams and hopes for her.  She uses her camera (she calls it “Chica Tikka”-Third Eye. Isn’t that beautiful?) and, in the process of developing her photographs, she tells the story of what it is like to be living in the space between two cultures.

All right.  I’ll admit it. I picked this book up once before and abandoned it because it felt like it was a billion pages long.  However, once you’re into the story, the very lush language and descriptions don’t weigh it down.   It’s a story that meanders, rather than slams you upside the head with a bunch of plot devices, one after the other.  If you approach it with that in mind, I think you’ll love the descriptions of clothing and food and music; they’re very poetic and as I was reading, I felt like the author was also an artist, because of her celebration of detail and composition.  This is a lovely book for summer reading; it begs to be read on the porch or a picnic blanket.

I especially loved Dimple’s relationship with her parents.  Through the course of the story, she begins to learn more about them as human beings-her mother was a beautiful dancer as a young person; her father prays daily for Dimple to find a loving life partner-regardless of gender.  (Dimple isn’t a lesbian, but there are multiple queer characters in the story, so you won’t be disappointed.) It’s a really beautiful thing you realize as you become an adult: the process of growing from dependent child to an equal and a friend of you parents is very special, and it’s often overlooked in young adult literature.  In this book, it is sensitive and nuanced and was one of my favorite threads in the story.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.thisistanuja.com (She’s in the process of making a new website, so this isn’t so interesting at the moment-check back later, all right?)

Hidier, Tanuja Desai.  Born Confused. Scholastic: New York, 2002. 514 pp. (Yes, that’s really how long it is!)

All right, this book was hard for me to match with others, so bear with me, please!  It fills a place in literature that just doesn’t have a lot of content yet.  But, if you liked this book for the queer content-you know, the issues of being a minority of a minority, you might try Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole: the tone is a little lighter, and the protagonist a bit younger,  but it’s about a Cuban-American lesbian and it’s really funny.  If you like the specifically Indian queer content, you might try Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal.  I haven’t read it yet, but it is recommended on the ALA’s Rainbow List.  Do you know of any others?  I’d love to hear!

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Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“‘I’m trying to jumpstart the world.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I’m trying to remind the world to be what it knows it should be.'”

Elle’s beautiful, aloof mother dumps her in a New York apartment alone, just shy of her 16th birthday.  The reasoning:  her mother has a new boyfriend, and he’s just not interested in having a teenager hanging around.  So Elle gets her own apartment, conveniently out of the way.  After she moves in, she meets Frank, her next-door neighbor.  Right away, she notices something different about him.  She finds herself drawn to him.  He’s a great listener, and Elle really hasn’t had anyone to really listen to her in her life before.

When her new group of friends point out that they think Frank is transgender, Elle becomes very upset.  During her sheltered life, she has never been exposed to any of the GLBT crowd before.  She’s not sure what to do, and for a while she avoids Frank and her friends at school.   She has a lot to think about.

That’s the point of this book: what Elle is thinking about.  It’s not a plot-driven story; it’s more about how Elle’s thoughts develop and change.  I like that, actually.  It gives the story a quiet, introspective feel.  The language is simple, almost sparse, and feels thoughtful in the sense that these are Elle’s thoughts, her first-person narrative.  She honestly discusses her preconceptions, hurts and fears throughout the book.

I am always grateful to see books about transpeople.  One of the most powerful motivators of hatred is fear and ignorance, and it’s a step in the right direction to be exposed to many different types of people in this nonjudgmental way.  That said, I would really like to see more of these books about GLBT characters to be written by GLBT authors.  I’m not saying that this would have been a better book had the author been transgender herself, but I would like to see more of our voices out there.

All in all, a quiet, pleasant read.  Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/

Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Jumpstart the World.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.  208 pp.  Grades 8-10.