The What: Samar, better known as Sam, feels rattled in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Her mother, who is the only family she has ever known, has always told her that her Sikh heritage does not make her any different than her peers. Her classmates don’t seem to have gotten the memo, and as a child, Sam was treated differently because of her skin color and last name. Now a teenager, Sam feels like she blends in better. Her best friend Molly’s large Irish family has practically accepted her as one of their own. Then a turbaned man claiming to be her Uncle Sandeep appears on her front porch, and Sam starts to wonder what her family is like. Her mother has warned her that they are controlling and awful, but she wants to meet them for herself. What does it mean to be a Sikh, where does Sam come from, and how can she reconcile her past with her present?
The Good: The reviews that I’ve read about this book have focused on how sensitively and fully the author portrays the quest to integrate different parts of one’s history into one’s identity. That’s true, but what I found even more affecting was the relationship between Sam and her mother. It’s honest, it’s difficult, and it’s loving, and I don’t know a single young woman who hasn’t been through similar travails with her own mother. Sam’s experiences with Uncle Sandeep and her Nanaji and Naniji helped her to see how her mother came to be her mother, which helped her understand how she herself came to be. Also praiseworthy is the portrayal of Molly, who proves that being an ally doesn’t mean getting everything right. And Uncle Sandeep’s involvement in Sam’s life and unconditional love got me right in my heart parts. Oof, in a good way.
The Meh: If I’d read this manuscript in any of my writing workshops while I was getting my Creative Writing degree, I would have suggested showing rather than telling for the many, many sentences that involved lines to the effect of, “… and I knew things would never be the same again.” Okay, that’s valid, but tell us what Sam’s seeing. Tell us what she feels about it. You’re a good writer–we’ll get what you mean from your images and descriptions of emotions!
Hand It To: Nancy Pearl’s character readers, teens straddling cultures, older teens