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Not What I Hoped For: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Hello!

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 herMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman 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 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 256 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book:

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Fantasy Love: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Well hello there friends!

Are you ready for some fantasy love?! I hope so because I seriously have some major fantasy love going on and the audiobook of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson just rocked my world!

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. Elisa is the chosen one.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonBut she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.

You guys! This book! I honestly have been reluctant to write this review because I just didn’t know how to explain how fabulous it is. It really, really is fabulous. And to think, it had been sitting on my self so long without me realizing how much I’d love it!

To be honest though, I did feel a little out of the loop at first. It seemed like we just got thrown into Elisa’s story with little to no context and we had to learn the context as we were going. I felt lost like I knew nothing about her culture or kingdom to ground myself in the story. It soon became clear that this would all come along as the story progresses. Once Elisa travels to Brisadulce this context starts to come into focus a little more and the plot really picks up.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Elisa either. However I quickly grew to love her, which is almost what I think was supposed to happen. I think the way I felt about Elisa mirrored how she felt about herself. She wasn’t sure if she liked herself or not. She was kind of just going through life doing the motions and as Elisa starts to figure out how she feels about herself, we as readers do too. She may just be one of my favorite heroines in YA now! Carson’s supporting characters were bright and vivid too, especially Humberto, Cosme and Lord Hector (le sigh…).

One of my favorite things about The Girl of Fire and Thorns was the religion aspect of things. Elisa’s faith and religion was such a huge part of who she was and there was just so much detail in Elisa’s religion that it’s just integral to the story as a whole. Total world building.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns was a great start to a fantasy series that I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the books (I first wrote this review in August I have since read all three books!!!!) If you’re a fan of fantasy and romance you absolutely must read this series!

To make things even more awesome I’ll be seeing Rae Carson in November at YA’LL Fest in Charleston on November 9th! I can’t wait to meet her!

Author: Rae Carson

Publisher: Greenwillow, Recorded Books (September 20, 2011)

Format: audiobook

Length: 12 hours and 9 minutes

Narrator(s): Jennifer Ikeda

Series: Fire and Thorns series, book 1

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:  The Girl of Fire and Thorns

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Already On My To Buy List: The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Hello!  I read this book as part of the 2012 Debut Authors Challenge.

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera HiranandaniAfter her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia’s mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions—questions Sonia doesn’t always know how to answer—as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren’t part of the “in” crowd.

At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she’s dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent—it’s hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia’s father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are—and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole.

I have to say that I was captivated with this story from the start; I started it and didn’t want to put it down (although work, and real life actually did force me to!).

The Whole Story of Half a Girl is a coming of age story centered around a girl in middle school at a point in her life when everything (and I mean everything!) gets turned upside down. Sonia’s father looses his job, she has to go to a different school, her mother has to work more, her father is struggling with depression, she is trying to make new friends, and all while kids at school are making fun of her.

Hiranandani writes a story so real that it hurts at times.  The more I read, the more my mind was flooded with my own memories from this age.  Kids are not just dealing with one problem, but  are often blindsided by a multitude all at once, making the transition from child to teenager that much more challenging.  I appreciate the way this book illustrates the complexity of family issues, relationship struggles and the difficulty that comes with discovering one’s own (ethnic/religious) identity. There was potential for Sonia’s story to be easily clichéd or stereotyped, but Hiranandani manages to keep the story balanced and realistic while at the same time incredibly touching. And I think that Hiranandani does a wonderful job of writing about such deep issues, while also maintaining the middle grade appropriateness.

As a main character Sonia is both likable and easy to connect with.  In the midst of all the changes, Sonia is really trying to make sense of everything the best she can.  I especially like how realistically flawed Hiranandani writes Sonia, as exemplified in how she handles her new friendships at her new school.  Through much of the book, Sonia puts real friendship on the back-burner, instead turning her attention to the more superficial and in turn hurts some people.  Although its a mistake I understand why Sonia would do this; her life is so much upheaval she just focuses on whats easy for a while; going with the flow.  Eventually, however she realizes that going with the flow isn’t always the healthiest of practices, especially when it comes to who you spend your time with. Who, when faced with such difficult times, wouldn’t make the easy choice for a little while?

Overall, I was impressed with how moving Sonia’s story was and highly recommend it to any reader preteen and up.   The Whole Story of Half a Girl is already on my Too Buy list for my Media Center!

Author: Veera Hiranandani

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Format: Advanced Reader Copy (e-book)

Pages: 224

Series: Stand alone debut

YA/MG: Middle Grades

Buy the Book: The Whole Story of Half a Girl