Monday, February 27, 2017

2016 Cybils MG Finalist: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Ravi Suryanarayanan has recently moved from Bangalore, India to Hamilton, New Jersey because of his father's job. Now, Ravi is about to begin fifth grade at Albert Einstein Elementary School, confident that his English is good since it is his first language, and that he will have not trouble keeping up with the work. After all, he was at the top of his class in India.

Ravi finds himself in Mrs. Beam's class, where he notices a boy, Dillon Samreen, who appears to be Indian American, and who, he quickly discovers, is the most popular boy in the class. Ravi is sure they will soon be best friends.

But things don't start off as well as Ravi hoped. First, Mrs. Beam, like most Americans, mispronounces Ravi's name.  The other kids in the class laugh at his formal manners, make fun of his buttoned up, ironed shirts, and no one can understand him when he speaks in class because of his accent. His teacher decides to send him to the resource room to get help, a decision Ravi finds insulting and humiliating.

Things aren't much better the second day. When Ravi goes to the board to solve a multiplication problem, he uses colored markers and the Vedic method, only to be told not to do that again. Humiliated yet again, Ravi is wondering when the next insult will happen, when a foot shoots out and trips him. As Ravi falls, Dillon manages to point the blame a Joe.

Ravi sits in front of Joe Sylvester and behind Dillon in Mrs. Beams class. Joe's two best friends have recently moved away and he finds himself alone and at the mercy of Dillon, who turns out to be the sneaky class bully who always has Joe in his sights. Joe also has APD, or Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes focusing in class difficult for him, so he spends a lot of time with Mrs. Frost, the resource room teacher. To make him even more of a target, Joe's mom has taken a much needed job as a lunchroom monitor, something Dillon immediately adds to his list of taunts. But Joe also knows Dillon's secret - that he is a petty thief, stealing things from his classmates whenever possible.

The first few days of the first week of school go pretty much along these lines - Ravi continuously misreading cues from the people in school, particularly Dillon, whom he continues to think wants to be his best friend, and Joe dodging Dillon and his insults, especially in the cafeteria.

But when Mrs. Beam gives her class an assignment in which they must bring in an object that reflects who they are, along with an unsigned one sentence explanation of why that object was chosen, due on Friday, will it be the thing that finally opens up Ravi's eyes to the truth about both Dillon and Joe?

Save Me a Seat is told over the first week on school, alternating between Ravi and Joe's point of view. Interestingly, they never really interact directly with each other that first week of school, even though they have a common bullier in Dillon. yet, they manage to get to know each other better than most friends do.

The story is a little predictable, especially given the title, but the fun is in getting to the end of the first week and seeing how things unfold. I think that knowing the outcome allows the reader for focus more on what is happening and what each boy is saying about his life in and out of school.

Neither Ravi not Joe struck me as stereotypical, though Dillon does. After all, a bully is a bully, this one just happens to be Indian American, and dresses in a manner that sounded very hip-hop to me (low pants, underwear hanging out). Ravi and Joe both made assumptions about each other, and in Ravi's case about Dillon, based on past experiences, and I think sometimes kids need to be reminded not to prejudge.

One of the things I really liked about Save Me a Seat is that both boys come from intact, loving homes. Talk about assumptions - I expected Joe's family to be just the opposite of who they turned out the be. And Joe isn't a typical loner, either, he really doesn't want to be one. He wants friends and fun and all the other things kids enjoy.

At the end of the book, there are two glossaries - Ravi Glossary and Joe's Glossary for words that may be unfamiliar to readers. There is also a recipe apple crisp and one for Naan Khatai's. I happen to love the taste and smell of Indian food, so I had a great deal of interest in Ravi's lunch tiffin everyday.

Save Me a Seat is one of my favorite books of 2016 and I highly recommend it.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

1 comment:

  1. This one of my favourite Cybils nominees. I liked how Joe and Ravi learn to at least dismantle their assumptions about each other. Glad you enjoyed it!


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