American Betiya

Knopf. Mar. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984897152.
Gr 10 Up–A traditional Indian American girl meets a troubled white boy in this forbidden romance novel. Dutiful 18-year-old daughter Rani Kelkar abides by her conservative parents’ rules and is on a path for success: well-liked in her community, helpful with younger cousins, straight-A student, and on the road to become a pediatrician. Oliver Jensen lives with his alcoholic mother, his father is long gone, and his sister is pregnant with a married man’s child. When the teens meet at an art exhibit, where Rani is displaying her photography project and Oliver his paintings, they fall for each other despite Rani’s parents’ strict no-dating rule. When they begin going out in secret, Rani makes it clear Oliver is not to pursue her during the day or show up to her home. As their relationship deepens, Oliver starts asking for more, which Rani is not willing to give for fear of her parents’ reaction. As he spirals out of control, a shocking event makes Rani question everything she has ever felt for him. This story is fast-paced and readers will initially root for this young love, but when Oliver starts stereotyping Rani, they will side with her as she pushes back. Rajurkar describes how harmful microaggressions can be, and that being brown in modern-day America can be dangerous at times. The conservative, oppressive parents trope is somewhat tiresome, but it’s interesting to see how Rani juggles her heritage with trying to be a regular Illinois girl.
VERDICT A good purchase for high school collections.

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