Monday, October 14, 2013

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

When I was 12, I was signed up for religious instruction.  What this meant was the every Wednesday afternoon, all the NYC public school kids going to religious instruction would line up for early dismissal to go to their respective churches or synagogues.  Catholics and Protestants for confirmation classes, Jewish kids for Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes.  The best part of this was that it got me out of a double period of a much hated sewing class, so I was pretty certain that year that there was a God.

Unlike the main character in My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, middle schooler Tara Feldstein, 12, half Indian, half Jewish, and not sure if she wants to be Bat Mitzvahed or not, having some doubts about God and some reservations about committing to Judaism and what that might mean in terms of her bi-cultural identity.

Not only that, but now Tara's best friend, Ben-O seems to be sending mixed messages about how he feels towards her.  One day he seems to want to be more than just friends, next he seems attracted to another girl.  Then, along comes Miss Perfect, Sheila Rosenberg who tells Tara she really isn't Jewish anyway, because her mother is Jewish, not realizing that Mrs. Feldstein had converted long ago.  And now Tara notices that her other best friend Rebecca is hanging out with Sheila Rosenberg more and more.  Not sure of what going on, this all just adds to Tara's doubts and confusion.

Then Tara, in an attempt to bridge both cultures, decides she wants to wear her great grandmother's prized sari for her Bat Mitzvah, but when Rebecca accidentally burns it in a rollicking game of Bollywood the two girls were playing,  it seems to bring everything to a head for Tara.  Will she be able to reconcile her Indian self with her Jewish self in a way that works for her and both sides of her family?

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah is, for the most part, a charmingly fun coming of age novel that deals with the particular identity crisis that kids with diverse backgrounds have and the choices they must sometimes make because of it.  Told in the first person, Tara is an engaging, humorous character who likes to speak her mind.

Tara and her friends seem like typical NYC kids to me, but I did think that the Jewish grandmother and the Indian aunt were a bit too cliched, although they were pretty funny as well.  Interestingly, they are actually both much more of a presence in the novel that Tara's parents are.

Freedman touches upon a number of themes in this novel, such as bullying, identity, racism, religion - all typical tropes in middle grade fiction and she handles them quite well.  And I really liked the weaving together of both side of Tara's cultural heritage.  

Freedman does introduce the fact that not every kid navigated these tough early teen year easily, and while Tara's difficulties can be presented in a humorous/serious way, Freedman does touch on a more serious problem many teens have in the person of Sheila Rosenberg.  Sheila, for all she appears to be the perfect preteen, suffers from Trichotillomania - the compulsive urge to pull out one's hair.  Tara discovers this by accident and it helps her realize that things aren't always what they seem on the outside.

Lots of Yiddish and Punjabi words were used throughout My Basmati Bat Mitzvah and in to back of the book is nice Glossary of the words and their meaning.  Something to remember as you read.

All in all, I enjoyed My Basmati Bat Mitzvah very much and would certainly recommend it to MG readers, Jewish, Indian or not.  There is definitely something for everyone in Tara's story.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an ARC received at the 2013 BEA


  1. Shall recommend this one to a friend's daughter who is older.. I am sure she will relate to the story. :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. I am sure your friend's daughter will enjoy this book. It is serious but fun and Tara is a great narrator.

  2. That sounds like a great book. I think it must be pretty challenging to try to have characters meant to represent a background yet not stereotypical or cliched. Do you have ideas for what the author could have done differently to give them more unique personalities?

    I'll have to check it out. I'm dropping by from the Kid's Lit Blog Hop, and looking for books for my kids and I.

  3. This sounds like a great book! Trying to reconcile two different cultures is something that I think a lot of readers can relate to.
    Thanks for sharing your review with the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  4. Knowing a few self-titled "Hinjews", I'll definitely have to check this one out. It's refreshing to see hybrid identities represented at all well in children's/YA media (or media at all for that matter).

  5. I think there is definitely a need for more middle grade books that cover the theme of dual identities as we see cultures increasingly mixing in our society. Great recommendation for the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Thanks so much for joining us!


Imagination Designs