As a librarian I’m always on the look out for multicultural and diverse YA fiction as a general rule, but especially since my school is an International Baccalaureate school. I had high hopes for My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman, but in the end I was left disappointed.
During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.
Overall, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah was entertaining and sweet, but the writing was just average, which is where I was disappointed.
As a main character Tara is both sympathetic and extremely annoying at the same time. There is a lot going on in Tara’s life and while she’s balancing everything she’s having some serious questions of faith. I love how Freedman portrays this push and pull between cultures through the religious/faith side of things, because one’s spiritual faith is, I think, often overlooked in YA and MG fiction, which bothers me sometimes because I believe preteen and teen readers are often searching and trying to make sense of their spiritual surroundings. In this I believe that teen readers will appreciate and even see themselves in Tara.
And although many may also see themselves in Tara’s failings as well, I just feel that Freedman handled these weaknesses (ie: the things I found very annoying) irresponsibly. Tara had big anger issues and is willing to physically fight over nothing more than a glance from her “enemies”, and while I am incredibly aware that this is a common struggle for many teens, I hated the way Freedman wrote it and just kind of left it there. Tara didn’t ponder her actions and no one seemed to question it. I don’t mean to say that I expected some sort of moral lesson to wrap up Tara’s flaws, it was all just poorly written, in my opinion.
In the end although it was not as good a read as I had been hoping, I did purchase My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for my library because I think that most of Tara’s struggles and voice are real enough for readers to connect with and the subject matter is incredibly relevant for today’s world.
Author: Paula J. Freedman
Publisher: Amulet Books (October 1, 2013 )
Length: 256 pages