When it comes to teen novels, John Green and Nicholas Sparks don’t quite speak for everyone. Your average teenaged South Asian girl’s dilemmas have less to do with her parents cramping her style, and more to do with figuring out ways to avoid the smell of tharka or masala from lingering in her hair (an old hoodie with drawstrings works quite well, in case you were wondering).
Story by Nimritta Parmar | Photo Still: Yashraj Films
Here are three coming-of-age stories for South Asian teen girls (and even those of us who might be a little older) that might fit the bill better.
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
This is ultimately a love story about self-acceptance. 17 year old Dimple Lala is an Indian girl living in New Jersey, dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with being an American-born daughter of immigrants. Dimple lives in two very distinct worlds – her world at home, and her world outside. In the first, she lives a somewhat sheltered, but loving life with her parents. In the second, she is accompanied by her blond, willowy best friend Gwyn, where she goes on dates with bad boys and gets drunk. Her worlds collide when her parents introduce her to Karsh Kapoor. Karsh is everything a good Indian boy should be – he is educated, has a good relationship with his parents, and he embraces his Indianness wholeheartedly. Naturally, Dimple is both repulsed, and enticed by him, and thus, Karsh becomes strongly tied to Dimple’s journey towards self-acceptance. A few characters that you will undoubtedly find yourself attached to by the end are Chica Tikka, Dimples beloved camera, and third eye through which she navigates her world, and Dada Ji, Dimple’s grandfather, who acts as a metaphorical tie to her Indian roots. Hidier has painted a beautiful, and extremely detailed picture of an Indian girls journey. Dimples voice is both vulnerable and poetic, and it’s hard not to find yourself in her story.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Following the members of the Ganguli family on their journey from India, to America, and back again, this novel remedies a sense of longing you didn’t know you had. Lahiri writes each family members individual story, and exquisitely weaves them together. Aashima is torn from her home in India, and brought to live in the cold city of Boston by her new husband, Ashoke, whom she barely knows. Here they build their life together, along with their son Gogol, and daughter Sonia, while trying to ignore their feelings of displacement. Gogol, named after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, rejects the name given to him by his father, changing it from Gogol, to Nikhil (though he goes by Nick). With his new American name in tow, he forges his path in life with every intention of diverging from his parents. However, at the end of his journey through love, loss, and tragedy, he finds himself returning home to them, in more ways than one. If ever you feel like you cannot understand your parents, read this book. The Namesake articulates the importance of knowing where you come from, and will make you want to hop on a plane to India and dig your fingers deep into the Earth.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
“What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”
I wonder how I might have been different if Mindy had been around when I was growing up. Mindy draws from her own mistakes and triumphs to write comedic guides to life. She speaks so honestly, and unabashedly about herself, regardless of whether she’s recalling an embarrassing moment, or a sad one. Her story is full of countless mishaps, but each and every time she falls, she gets back up again and keeps going, eventually leading her to become the successful woman she is today. She is both humble, and completely unapologetic, making this book more relatable than any other memoir you will ever read. Mindy has the voice of an older sister, and speaks to the awkward Indian teenaged girl in all of us.