Hello! I am so happy to be a part of the blog tour of American Betiya (thanks Lonely Pages Book Tour!) since this book was so good and so important and it’s going to be hard to express my thoughts on it, but I am going to try.
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.
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.
Content warnings: death, grief, drug usage, suicide, depression, racism, fetishisation, microagression.
The book follows Rani, an Asian American girl trying to find herself in the midst of two contradictory cultures she has been raised in. With a passion for art, she owns the chance to have her photographs displayed at an art gallery and her entire family comes to support her. There, she meets Oliver, a tattooed art-loving boy who intrigues her.
Despite all the risks, Rani decides to try and get to know him better and it seems to be everything she wants as he listens to her and makes her feel seen. But things start going sideways sooner rather than later as he makes small remarks, such as nicknaming her ‘Princess Jasmine’ and calling her ‘exotic’, which may not seem like a big deal to him but as things start piling up, it soon becomes clear that things between them are not going on.
From Oliver invalidating Rani’s culture and pressuring her to let him meet her parents to not standing up for her when she says that she is a vegetarian, he belittles her. Rani, unsure what to do, gives into him and his fantasies, trying to make him happy in whatever was possible as she feels guilt for not introducing him to her parents.
Cultural differences are a territory that is hard to explore but when one person is not willing to understand the other person’s perspective, it is even harder. Further, there is always a gender difference, which isn’t explored all that much here but is still important to consider. Not just in Asian communities, but worldwide, there is a difference when a boy brings a girl home versus when a girl brings home boy and Oliver not seeing even that made me even angrier.
It is hard not to feel the frustration and confusion swirling around in Rani’s hard as she tries to understand what to do. The things that she experiences are difficult for one to process and watching her learn and grow from the experience. I am glad to have read Rani’s story and the truth that the author has tried to present to us through it.
This book deals with a lot of important topics that are hard but important to talk about such as fetishisation and micro aggression and seeing how Rani deals with it all and refuses to lose her identity of herself is awe inspiring. This book is a much needed one today where we pretend to be very progressive and overlook such things which seemingly ‘could not be done today’ despite the heartbreaking reality.
RATING: 4 STARS
Anuradha D. Rajurkar is the national recipient of the SCBWI Emerging Voices Award for her contemporary debut novel, American Betiya. Born and raised in the Chicago area to Indian immigrant parents, Anuradha earned two degrees from Northwestern University, and for many years had the joy of being a public school teacher by day, writer by night.
Nowadays, when she’s not writing or reading, you can find Anuradha exploring the shores of Lake Michigan with her family, obsessing over her garden, watching either happy TV like Queer Eye or old horror flicks with her son, cooking Indian food, or roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns. She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations.
Have you read this book yet? Did you like it? Are you planning to read it in the future? Tell me in the comments below!