14-year-old Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, is an awkward looking kid born who spends his time drawing cartoons as an escape from his impoverished life on a Spokane Indian reservation in Wellpinit, WA.  He also hangs out with his appropriately named friend Rowdy who's always ready to beat up someone or something. Arnold's life really turns into a big question mark when he decides to enroll in a wealthy, white school in Reardon. He's in a tug-of-war with his new identity and his old one individually and as part of a tribe.

This is such a funny and entertaining read but, it's also quite educational as I feel I got a real glimpse into life on a modern Indian reservation. I was well aware of he alcoholism that plagues a number of the Indian community, but Alexie's narrative brought a sensibility to it. The sheer level of poverty is also a tough pill to swallow when one considers the grave impact of settlement in the U.S. on American Indians. But, again, Alexie makes it all bearable with the cartoons that provide much of the insight on Junior's life. Junior's quirky persona while coping with  life and  pursuing a permanent way off the rez through education provides a hopeful and uplifting tale for young people.

Neesha Meminger's debut YA novel sheds light on life for a teenage girl of Indian heritage in post-9/11 America. 17 year old Samar has been very assimilated into American culture by her mother who has severed all ties to her family due to religious and philosophical differences stemming from her own childhood. Samar and her mother have a pretty good bond until a long lost uncle appears on their doorstep and awakens a strong desire in Samar- aka Sammy- to know more about about the family and Sikh heritage that her mother has done everything she can to keep hidden from her. What unfolds is the story of a 3rd generation brown skinned girl who is as American as they come but while coming to terms with her heritage she also has to do the same with the profound ignorance of which she finds herself a target.

Meminger's teenage characters have clear, authentic voices. The boys are all pretty immature and the girls think they're more mature than they really are. I really appreciated her attention to such small details like including a model of color as one Sammy and her white best friend, Molly admire. Also, their school seems to be a real microcosm in terms of the socioeconomic and multicultural/multi-ethnic backgrounds represented. The adults are also written with relevancy and clarity. Especially Sammy's mother, Sharanjit, and her uncle, Sandeep. In spite of their differing ideas and the many years since their separation, the love between this brother and sister is evident.

One of my favorite moments is when Sammy, in spite of her mother's adverse opinion of "religion", has a meaningful experience at a local gurdwara (Sikh temple). This really speaks volumes to the difference between religion and spirituality and how the latter is often overshadowed by the former.

Shine Coconut Moon is a great story that I believe all teens could identify with and those a bit older who were teens during the events of 9/11. This novel exposes the realities of identity becoming more prevalent for many who were at once Americans then suddenly found themselves under unfair scrutiny. Also, it should speak to all ages in general on knowing and treasuring family and heritage.

South Asian Author
POC Reading

Yesterday, my son and I hung out at the library to do school. While he worked independently, I grabbed Jacqueline Woodson's If You Come Softly. I had recently been recommended this author by Susan of ColorOnline during a discussion on "problem novels" in YA fiction. So, I started reading it there and had to check it out so I could finish it at home.

If you Come Softly is first a teenage love story. Jeremiah Roselind, son of a famous filmmaker and a novelist, and Ellie Eisen, daughter of a doctor and SAHM, have one of those instantaneous love stories. One brief and awkward encounter leave them both with lingering thoughts about each other. At first, the most prevalent thought is that he's Black and she's white/Jewish.  Although they get over this difference quickly, strangers don't and whether their families will is questionable.  What unfolds in this story is a sometimes naive, yet sweet, youthful romance that explores racial identity and stereotypes with an unexpected ending.

I was so engrossed in this fast paced read and not sure of what I wanted to happen in the end. What did happen, I was so not prepared for. Of course, in retrospect, I do recall a bit of foreshadowing that was very subtle. This is a testament to Woodson's narrative skills. She gives hints that don't make things predictable. However, the ending still pissed me off. Woodson, why'd you have to break my heart like that?

This is a story that, for its implications of race, adults might actually learn more from. Today's young people are growing up in such multi-ethnic/multicultural societies that they have already gotten over it. It's the adults that seem to still carry the burden. What young people will get from this book, though, is that "time comes to us softly, slowly. It sits beside us for a while. Then, long before we are ready, it moves on." Carpe Diem!

Note to Susan: Thanks for the recommendation. I'm looking forward to reading more by Jacqueline Woodson. I got a copy of From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun for the read-a-thon.