American as Paneer Pie – Supriya Kelkar


 American as Paneer Pie – Supriya Kelkar. Aladdin, 2020. 9781534439382

Format: Hardcover

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: realistic fiction

 What did you like about the book?  11-year-old Lekha Divekar has always thought of herself as two different people – Home Lekha, who is obedient to her parents and loves and respects her Indian heritage, and School Lekha, who meekly tolerates her teachers’ consistent mispronunciations of her name and the frequent taunts and nicknames hurled at her by her schoolmates.  The only person who knows both versions of Lekha is her friend Noah, who lives next door.  Lekha’s family is the only Desi family in their suburban Michigan neighborhood, and they feel the brunt of both subtle and overt racism following the election of a senator whose campaign slogan is “Don’t Like It? Leave.”  While Lekha endures snide comments and attitudes from kids in her class and on her swim team, her family is devastated when Lekha’s uncle and his friend in California are badly beaten in a hate crime, and shortly thereafter someone spray paints a hateful message on their garage door.

When an Indian family moves in across the street, with a daughter Lekha’s age, everyone (their parents, teachers, and classmates) assumes that the two girls will immediately become the best of friends.  Lekha resents this and has to come to terms with her own prejudices, as the new family has just moved from India, so she thinks Avantika will not assimilate well with her thick accent and her status as a “fob” (“fresh off the boat”).  But even as she tries to avoid Avantika at school and in the neighborhood (jeopardizing her friendship with Noah as well), she grows to admire her for her outspokenness and her cultural pride.  The ultimate development of their friendship, though predictable, is rewarding for readers, as is the growth of Lekha’s character, confidence and voice.

Lekha’s first person narration of her story provides a very personal perspective; the book is steeped in details of Indian culture such as clothing, food, and the celebration of Diwali, while highlighting the ways in which Lekha embraces typically American ideas as well.  The important issues of racism and social justice are addressed in age-appropriate terms and interwoven with typical tween friendship drama about sleepovers, leg shaving, and pizza toppings.     

Anything you did not like about the book?  no

 To whom would you recommend this book? This is a quintessential “Windows and Mirrors” novel for upper elementary students, with valuable lessons for readers of any background.  A great choice for those who enjoyed Save Me A Seat and other stories that deal with racism and bullying in a school setting, such as Amina’s Voice or A Place at the Table.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary/middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 12/28/2020

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