Book Review: Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

born-confusedTitle: Born Confused

Author: Tanuja Desai Hidier

First Sentences: “I guess the whole mess started around my birthday. Amendment: my first birthday.”

Publisher:   July 1st 2003 by Scholastic Paperbacks

Rating: 4 out of 5 Daddy Daughter Corn Muffin Dates

* This ARC provided through Netgalley*

Mini Review: Lovely and entrancing, with minimal use of annoying tropes.

 

 

Summary

Dimple is an American Born Confused. That is, a girl of Indian descent born in the US with two cultures clashing around her. She has a best friend, Gwyn, who is beautiful and seemingly perfect in every way, except for a family that doesn’t act the way family should. Dimple and Gwyn have a complicated, and fairly uneven friendship, Gwyn taking more than she gives and Dimple feeling lucky just to get what she does.

When Dimple’s parents set her up with Karsh, the son of a family friend and Good Indian Boy, Dimple’s first reaction is disgust. But as she gets to know him she discovers that maybe he really is as great as her parents think he is. Only problem– she’s renounced all interest in him and now Gwyn has claimed dibs.

Woven into this is the story of Dimple reconnecting with her cousin Kavita who is struggling with her own clash — between her culture and her sexuality. It’s a story of friendship and love, both romantic and familial, and a classic coming of age novel through a refreshingly new set of eyes.

Review

I loved this book. I really did. I love how much I learned about Indian culture, I loved going on the journey with the characters and I loved the emotions that the book captured. And then I went on Goodreads and looked at some reviews and a weird thing happened. I started second-guessing my own opinion. There were some who found the explanations of Indian culture too long and were annoyed that it seemed intent on educating white people on South Asian culture. Reading their (totally valid) thoughts made me go ‘maybe I’m wrong to like it. Maybe it is too whatever.’ And then I remembered that I am a grown ass adult, not to mention an educated librarian and I GET TO LOVE WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT TO!

So I returned to loving this book because you’re not the boss of me.

The Good

There was so much about this book I enjoyed, but my favorite thing was the way that Hidier captured those uncapturable moments. The perfect nights when the stars are shining and everything is beautiful. That one moment in the middle of a crazy crowded dance club when time seems to stop and suspend and all your emotions hang around you, almost tangible but just out of reach like the colored lights on the floor and walls. Her words are so much more eloquent than mine, and they completely describe those moments that I’ve always found so indescribable.

I’ve read some reviews where people hate on Gwyn. I can see why. She’s incredibly selfish and constantly disregards Dimple’s feelings and needs. It’s a totally imbalanced friendship in which Dimple constantly feels lesser than Gwyn and even at the end that is never truly rectified. So why did I love it? Because it’s real. I had a Gwyn. Oh Goddess did I have a Gwyn. Blonde blue-eyed and model gorgeous. She had home troubles and all I wanted was to be there for her, to be the person she needed. (I may have also been totally in love with her, but that’s a different story.) So while I want to wring Gwyn’s neck and tell Dimple that she is better off getting out of this toxic friendship, I love that it is the way it is because this relationship happens so often in life and its so rarely portrayed in books.

It’s also refreshing to see a teen have a relationship with her parents. Any substantial relationship at all, let alone one that is not very confrontational. And to see Dimple have aunts and uncles and cousins and real relationships with them. I come from a big extended family and so much of Dimple’s interaction with her family made me smile. Dimple is perhaps too young to come to the mature conclusions she does about her parents as people and learning that its okay to hold on to some cultural traditions and not others. But I dare anyone to read Dimple’s father telling Dimple how he prays for her to find not a husband for husband’s sake, but for a soul mate and NOT CRY.

I love Kavita. I love her struggle with labels and her struggle with her girlfriend who embraces the labels. I love how she tries to balance her old life and her new life when the two are so at odds with each other. I love how she and Dimple discover that they’re kindred spirits after never really feeling they had much in common. I LOVE how Dimple’s mother reacts when she finds out Kavita likes girls. I love the way the family rallies around Kavita when she gets her heart broken.

And of course, I love Zara, Dimple’s friend who is a drag queen. Zara is wonderful, inside and out. You just have to read the book to understand why because once again I find myself at a loss for words.

The Not so Good

Karsh is great. He’s really great. So great, that he’s… well… a little too great. He’s absolutely a teenage girl’s dream guy. It doesn’t really seem to have any flaws. And while that makes him nice to want Dimple to get together with, I also just don’t believe anyone is that perfect.

I have an ARC, so this may have changed for the final print version, but the dialogue was indicated with a dash instead of quotation marks and it was very hard to follow at times. It pulled me out of the story and was generally distracting.

**This portion contains spoilers for the end, so highlight the text to reveal it or skip to the next section.**

The climax had me rolling my eyes. Dimple gets together with Karsh, okay fine. Even good since they are clearly meant to be together (at least for now) and they may be the only two teenagers that I believe will actually stay together—though more because of culture than because of the likelihood of finding true love at age 17. But the idea that a teenager’s photography would be used at such a high profile event in New York City? Girl Please. It’s a nice dream. A nice fantasy. And probably not out of place in a YA novel where we want to see teenager’s dreams come true. But my adult self rolled her eyes soooo far into the back of her head. There is absolutely a place for the “Happy Ever After” ending in novels, but I would like to see many more books where the big event the teen is hoping will be perfection itself doesn’t work out the way they thought since life so rarely does. 

The Mildly Controversial

I absolutely understand that if the reader came from South Asian culture, they might find the exposition overly educational, but as a white reader I found it incredibly enlightening. I loved gaining insight into a fascinating culture that is so often misunderstood (I think at least). I felt that including characters who pointed out how its not the responsibility of POC to educate white folk about social and racial issues to the white character in the book was important and well executed. And I felt that the balance of explanation so a white reader isn’t lost and just describing Dimple’s world as any author would any world was very well done.

 

So all in all I give it 4 stars and look forward to what Hidier will publish next!!

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

      1. I might just happen to have a print ARC of that book … got it at ALA. If you’d like to borrow it to read, I can mail it to you as long as you send it back when you’re done. 🙂 PM me on GoodReads if you’re interested. 🙂

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