As American as Paneer Pie

As American as Paneer Pie
Age Range
Release Date
June 09, 2020
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As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Editor review

1 review
Friends, Moving, and lots of food!
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Lehka loves being on the swim team and hanging out with neighbor and friend Noah in her town an hour from Detroit, but she occasionally wishes she weren't the only Desi girl in her school. When new neighbors move in and have a girl her age AND have just come from India, Lehka doesn't quite know what to think. There are a lot of things she has in common with Avantika, but since her new neighbor is a fob (fresh of the boat), she doesn't understand that there are some things you just don't do-- let the other girls know you use coconut oil on your hair, don't bring "smelly" Indian food for lunch, and try to fly beneath the haters' radar instead of challenging them. Things seem to work out for Avantika, but Lehka struggles. She doesn't want to shave her legs even though her swim teammates are pressuring her, but she also doesn't feel at home with her Indian friends in the city. She loves celebrating Hindu holidays with her family and the always understanding Noah, but feels awkward when she is with friends and has to make sure the snacks are gelatin-free because her family is vegetarian. She puts up with constant, daily insults from boys in her class, but when there is a racist incident in her neighborhood and a candidate who is hostile to immigrants is elected, Lehka reexamines her relationships and her level of activism in order to try to make things right for herself and her family.
Good Points
This had lots of great details about Lehka's family dynamics and culture. It was interesting that while her family was unique in their town, they did have access to a larger Indian community in Detroit. Her complicated feelings about Avantika are so typically middle school that it was painful to read about-- but SO true!

I wish that we didn't see the kind of pervasive racism Lehka experiences, but hopefully books like this will make readers aware and help to end it.

This author's Ahimsa has done well for historical fiction in my library, and American as Paneer Pie is a great choice for students who like realistic fiction, especially those who enjoyed other books with culturally connected characters who are interested in social activism like Ramee's A Good Kind of Trouble, Bajaj's Count Me In, and Pancholy's The Best at It.

One warning: don't try to put coconut oil on your poodle's fur. It seemed to work so nicely for Lehka's hair that I tried it on my dog, but she just looked greasy!
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