Disclaimer: I received a free eARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
American Betiya was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, and it definitely did not disappoint. It was not only beautifully written, but covered so many themes that have been severely underrepresented and rarely discussed within the South Asian community, especially in Young Adult literature.
Trigger Warnings: suicide, racism, fetishization, microagressions, alcoholism, drug use
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 the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha 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.Goodreads
- I really appreciated the focus on Rani’s struggle being in her first relationship and having to hide that from her parents, as well as the mix of understanding and lack of understanding this was met with by the people in her life. This is a topic that I haven’t seen covered in SA literature I’ve read so far, and having experienced it myself, it was both difficult and healing to see it here. Being told that dating is something you can be disowned for as a young adult by parents who haven’t grown up here and aren’t exposed to dating culture, was never in any of the YA I read, much less the struggle of trying to explain that to friends who haven’t grown up in the same environment.
“Maybe it’s the hidden layers he’s unearthed in my photography, or it’s his smile, hesitation and earnestness and a tinge of desperation all captured in this moment’s portrait. Maybe it’s that his pickup lines are spectacularly bad, or that for the first time ever, someone is actually fascinated by the things that make me different.”American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
- Not just in this situation, but in other issues of culture clash brought up by the novel, one of the primary themes was that respecting and valuing someone’s cultural background and beliefs are everyone’s responsibility. I loved that Rajurkar emphasized and included not only the negatives of when people just don’t get it, but also those that do, because it’s important to remember that although it can be difficult to understand someone else’s cultural values it is possible to do so enough to treat them with the respect that they deserve
- While bringing up the importance of standing up to microagressions and the severe impact that something so “micro” can have on the person suffering as a result of them, I really appreciated that the author also brought up how pointing them out can result in severe pushback and disbelief. This is pretty well illustrated in the quote below, when Rani finally brings up how to Oliver how the dozens of blatantly obvious microagressions he’s made throghout their entire relationship have hurt her. He, a white male, tries to defend himself by saying he’s perfectly aware of racial and feminist issues, and that she’s in the wrong. Need I say more??
“Rani. Listen. Artists consult me all the time on issues of racial and feminist messaging in art…I’m viewed as a progressive, and you know that. We can make this work.”American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
- I absolutely LOVED the last 20% of this book. It was everything I wanted, from Rani realizing she and her cultural values deserved some respect, to her trying to sort out her dueling identities in the context of her family, their expectations, and what she needed to do to make herself happy. Earlier on in the book, it seemed a little strange to me that Rani went from being a complete rule-follower to throwing SO many of her parents’ expectations out the window, and then her inner turmoil only being spoken about in the context of Oliver. This section definitely made up for it, although I wished it would’ve been a significantly greater portion of the book.
Ultimately, I felt that the biggest lesson from this book was that although one cannot always change the minds of others and their level of respect for your cultural background and values, you can always change what you are willing to put up with and the way you stand up for yourself and your identity the way Rani does. I sincerely think that everyone should give this book a read, because it’s something that provides something that has been missing for too long in South Asian literature and representation and is important for the members of this community to read, and equally if not more so, for those who are not.
American Betiya‘s release date is March 9, 2021, and you can pre-order and read more about the book using the links at the top of this page! Are you excited to read American Betiya? Any thoughts on the cover? I’d love to hear what you think about this book down below!
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day ❤