Fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson will identify with this powerful story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship.
Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in--his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art--make him her mother's worst nightmare.
They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver's troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself--and what's really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.
About the Author
Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.
Anuradha D. Rajurkar was born and raised in the Chicago area and holds two degrees from Northwestern University. Her debut has been honored with the nationwide Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Emerging Voices Award. She lives in Milwaukee with her family. AMERICAN BETIYA is her first novel.
“Our worlds seem so different on the surface, but maybe they’re reflections of the same soaring sky—one shot at dawn, one at dusk.”
In American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar, high school senior Rani meets Oliver at a local gallery exhibit where they both have art displayed. Rani, the daughter of Indian immigrants and part of a close-knit Indian community, aspires to become a pediatrician but also enjoys photography. Oliver, a painter and student of the arts, is Rani’s mother’s worst nightmare: covered in tattoos, and brazenly staring at Rani from across the room.
Rani is intrigued by Oliver’s artistic talents, his charisma, his bold looks… and his intense interest in her. Rani has had little experience with boys in general due to focused academic studies and strict parents who forbid any dating or romance. Yet Rani and Oliver share instant attraction and chemistry, and soon enough, Rani is sneaking out at nights to spend time with Oliver.
But the romance drives Rani to tell more and more lies to her family, straining her relationship with her parents and her grandmother, who’s visiting from India. And the romance itself begins to sour as Oliver fetishizes Rani and her Indian culture, and also commits microaggressions—especially as Rani insists on keeping the relationship a secret from her parents. Rani is frustrated and hurt by the ways Oliver disrespects her culture and parents, but also feels guilty over what she isn’t able to give him, most of all when his increasingly dysfunctional family and home life takes a toll on his mental and emotional well-being.
In this book, Anuradha Rajurkar thoughtfully explores difficult questions about finding a balance among culture and heritage, family expectations, and personal identity and expression. As Rani experiences first love—cross-cultural love, no less—she must grapple with establishing healthy boundaries for herself, her parents, and Oliver, as well as taking a stand against obsession and appropriation, particularly when it’s rationalized away as interest and love.
Rani is a very layered, flawed, and real character, who makes mistakes along the way as she’s faced with a boy insisting that he loves her, though his actions don’t always match his words. Her story will resonate with teens who feel caught between cultures and expectations, struggling to honor their background while faced with pressure from people who claim to understand and appreciate that background, but sometimes behave in ways that are anything but respectful. Through all her struggles, Rani is strengthened by an incredible network of friends—her best friend Kate, her cousin Shalini, and a group she later meets in college—all who provide an alternate presentation of what love and support can and should look like.
Especially moving and insightful is Rani’s relationship with her grandmother, and their conversations and reflections on overcoming painful life experiences: “The best masalas use spices slow-roasted over the flame […] browned, even a little burned. We are like that only—we burn a little to attain the complex flavor […] And that burning, the pain… one must not avoid such pain. It is part of a… rich life.”
Anuradha D. Rajurkar’s debut is a well-written and powerful story that is not to be missed.
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Sam Taylor grew up in Arizona’s desert and now lives among Connecticut’s trees. When not writing, Sam is busy being mom to the world’s cutest boys, whirling through dance workouts, and baking too many cakes. She does not possess fire magic, but does have one fire-colored cat. WE ARE THE FIRE is her debut novel.