I sucked this book down like a mango lassi. It was smooth, sweet and went down quickly. So quickly, in fact I read it in 24 hours. And then like my girls, I sat back, took a breath and dove back in for a second reading, running my finger along the side of the cup looking for some goodness that I left behind.
Paula J. Freedman created a strong female character, for which I thank her. Tara Feinstein is the girl we all want our daughters to be. She has her own fashion style—
vintage. She plays hoops with her best boyfriend. She still plays dress up at the age of 12 with her best girlfriend. She is pumped to join the robotics team. She is not afraid to stand up for herself, although she is learning to manage it with words and not fists. She also stands up for others, especially when they need a friend. She gives second chances, preferring to see the good in people. She questions her beliefs and seeks for answers.
But life is not all easy peazy lemon squeezy for Tara. She and her friends are going through a season of preteen changes—bat mitzvahs, changing bodies, shifting relationships and first crushes. As Tara prepares for her own bat mitzvah she struggles to understand how she can be Indian, like her mother, Jewish, like her father and remain herself. How can she be Jewish if she is not even sure she believes in God? If she goes through with this Bat Mitzvah, does that mean she is picking her “Jewish side” over her “Indian side”? Will she only date and marry Jewish boys, like her other Jewish friends? My Basmati Bat Mitzvah raises topics many of our bi-racial, bi-cultural children will face or are facing. Tara’s voice is honest and sturdy, allowing readers from all backgrounds to easily put themselves in her place.
On my second read of the book, I unfortunately did not find many leftover bits of goodness stuck to the side of my cup. I found myself bothered by the underdeveloped characters, orbiting around Tara. I wanted more connection with her parents. Tara’s Jewish Gran and her Indian Auntie seem a bit too stereotypical for my liking. And many of Freedman’s characters seemed like superficial offerings- the immigrant child gone wild, the Korean adopted child, the always in trouble child with ADHD, the Muslim child whose father jokes about getting her married at the age of 12, and the perfect child who turns out to have trichotillomania and problems with shoplifting. Perhaps this book would be a good fit for a book group or classroom, so readers could find ways to make these distinctive characters more vibrant and “finish” them. I was also bothered that the robotics club storyline just disappeared. It held such promise of a preteen girl not only psyched about science but also talented, and then offered us nothing except for scenes of teenage romance and angst. The one bright point in my re-read was to explore Tara’s special relationship with her open-minded and very patient rabbi. Every teenager needs to connect with a trustworthy adult outside of their family.
Recommendation: I recommend this book for ages 12-14. The writing itself is suited for ages 9+ but some of the topics, such as, first heterosexual kiss and a friend suffering from trichotillomania might be better received by an older reader.
Book Reviewer: Amanda Setty