Well, it was quite a week for me last week. First, Mitali Perkins' new novel Secret Keeper came in at the library, and then her friend and readergirlz co-sponsor, Justina Chen Headley's new book showed up in my mailbox (see next entry). It was a banner week of reading, I'll tell you that. Mitali was born in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and has lived all over the world. Here's what she says about her writing: "When I began to write fiction, my protagonists were often—not surprisingly—strong female characters trying to bridge different cultures." This is her fifth book for young adults, and I've loved every single one of them. Could be my "in my former life I was from India" thing again maybe, but probably it's just darn fabulous writing!
Raise your hand if you know what my favorite element of writing is - plot, setting, writing, or character development. Did you pick character development? Well done! And Mitali Perkins is a master of strong character development. Sisters Asha and Reet have moved to Calcutta in the mid 1970s to live with their grandparents while their father travels to America to try and find a good job. As soon as he's found one, he'll send for them. Unfortunately, it's taking a long time, and it's very stressful for the girls and their mother.
Asha has dreams of becoming a psychologist, but the time and place of this story make this highly unlikely. Asha is not even allowed to walk anywhere by herself or talk to a boy. She can really only talk to her journal, who she calls SK, Secret Keeper. I've never really been a journaler, but I know many people who are, and they find it very comforting and a good problem solving method. Certainly it helps Asha; it's practically the only thing keeping her sane. Well, that and her secret friendship with her neighbor, a friendship that would be totally forbidden if any of her relative found out because the neighbor is a boy.
Poor Asha; I feel so sad for her because she's so hemmed in. And then on top of all her loneliness and unlikely dreams, she has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her sister from a bad arranged marriage. It's got to be a devastating blow to her, but she does it anyway. I wonder if the feeling of having some control, in a time and place where she had so little control, helps her survive this. It does lead to some good changes. I was grateful for this, as a reader. I needed to have some hope for Asha because she was so real to me.
I love how this author makes the sights and sounds and smells of India as real as her characters, too. Setting isn't the biggest thing for me, but it's a really important piece, especially when a story is set in a place I've never been.
I'd definitely recommend this book. It's currently at the Multnomah County Library and I hope to have it in our library soon.