A luminous story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship. Perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson. 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 SCBWI's Emerging Voices award, Anuradha D. 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.
Rani is your modern Indian girl with some serious photography skills. Oliver is a gifted artistv with a troubled home life. When they collide at an art show, the sparks are immediately and Rani is content to sneak around to be with him since her mother would never let her date period, let alone date a white boy. Oliver, though? He isn’t a fan of the boundaries she has on their relationship. He’s simultaneously resentful of her culture and sexually obsessed with it.
I’m not kidding about that part. He gives her a traditional Indian wedding set to wear and requests she put it on before they have sex. The fetishization is real, but Rani lets it slide at the time because she’s got her rose-colored glasses on. Plus his tempestuous moods make it hard for her to stay on solid ground in their relationship.
Even as you’re gaping at how Rani and Oliver treat one another, it’s all too easy to get swept up in their love affair, especially when it’s mostly okay in the beginning. As the novel goes on and Oliver’s behavior grows more erratic, the line between his obsession with her culture and the genuine, heartfelt experience of it within Rani’s home just highlights how unhealthy their relationship has become.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
Where things weaken craftwise is toward the end of the novel. Rani’s dissection of what went wrong in her relationship with Oliver walks readers through every single red flag she missed and only sees now that they’re broken up and across the world from one another while she’s with her extended family in India. There’s no opportunity to think critically about their parts in how everything happened. We’re just boarded onto the Explain Train. It’s valuable for her to think through and understand it, but
American Betiya is a remarkable novel about first love, first relationships, and first heartbreak for a modern Indian girl from a traditional family. Were it not for the didactic turn the novel takes toward the end, I’d be rating it higher. Even so, I recommend you read it. Those who have never been in love will be able to live vicariously through Rani and maybe learn something from her.
Rani can't help but look back and is excited when Oliver asks her to join him for lunch at school the next day. As their relationship grows, Rani must make decisions about her family, secrecy, and the parts of her heritage she wants to embrace. Importantly, these decisions are her own and full of their own complexities, as she comes to realize.
What I loved: This book really captures the experience of Indian Americans including microaggressions and the ways that they may react to them as well as outright racism. The connecting with culture and defining yourself that POC immigrants and their descendants must do are also themes in this book that are captured really well in Rani's story. These were eye-opening and important to see.
The writing here is really powerful and enthralling. As Rani embarks on a relationship with Oliver, each step of the way, the reader feels the butterflies and the fear, both sides of the coin that eventually add up to a situation that is abusive and equally hard to separate. Rani feels these things, even when she cannot define them. She is an incredibly compelling character, and the writing wraps up the reader in her emotions and insights expertly.
Other themes including family, guilt, and friendship are all really thought-provoking. Rani is balancing her family and their expectations with her other desires, and I love the way that the family roles are ultimately settled. Rani also has a lot of guilt, not only from the current secrets, but also from what she feels that she failed to do for a friend in the past, with some important messages there. Additionally, Rani has a powerful friendship that shines through the story, and I loved the inclusion of such a friend. There are so many fantastic characters in the book throughout.
Final verdict: With important themes and powerful writing, AMERICAN BETIYA is a heartfelt, raw, and genuine YA contemporary that is certainly worth the read. Highly recommend for fans of MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE, and HOW IT ALL BLEW UP.