Monday, October 22, 2007


The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen

by Mitali Perkins.

Eighth-grader Sunita Sen has lived a pretty normal, pretty American-style life up until her grandparents arrived from India to live with her family for a year. Suddenly her mother took a year off from teaching college chemistry and traded her pantsuits for sarees, morphing into the ideal Indian daughter she thought her parents would want, and expected Sunita to follow suit.

Sunita is angry with her mother for changing everything about herself and their family, and embarrassed by how different they suddenly seem from the other, "American" families of her classmates. When her mother tells her not to bring home any boys, her budding romance with Michael is brought to a screaming halt, as she is too mortified to tell him the truth.

Eventually, her best friend Liz and her love for her grandfather bring things to a head, and she steps up, letting her classmates see her family as they are, telling Michael the truth and rekindling their friendship, and helps her grandparents and her mother start talking. This opening of communications allows her mother to relax, take some part-time teaching on again, and lets her see her family for the wonderful people they are. In the end, she even invites her classmates over to her house for a birthday party, something she never imagined doing just a week before.

I loved this book for the real feeling of it. What 12-year-old is not embarrassed about their family? And her confusion over her place, partly in Indian culture and partly Americanized, rings true. I also liked how the resolution came not as some reasoned lecture, not as some blinding epiphany, but in a moment of anger that made her let her guard down, and then everything came flooding out when she couldn't take the pressure any longer. Again, it hit the perfect note. I can see any middle grade or even teen reader of immigrant parents really understanding this and seeing their own dilemmas in it.

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