Title: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
Author: Paula J. Freedman
Pub. Date: October 1, 2013
Source: ARC via author + e-ARC via netgalley
Summary: During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, ALL THE FEELS
BEWARE: this review amounts to little more than an incoherent, rambly love letter.
You know that one review that you sit on until you come up with the right words to say, only to wind up writing – and rewriting – the entire thing? That’s how I was with My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. This is the novel I want to hand to Middle Grade/Young Adult naysayers who claim kids’ books can’t be thought-provoking and powerful. Even now I want to scrap this review and simply have a giant 72-pt blinking font that just reads “GO BUY THIS NOW.”
Tara Feinstein is just like every other 12-year-old: she loves having Movie Nights with her best friend Ben-o (who just might like-like her), she has to deal with all the hurt and jealousy that comes with her other best friend Rebecca becoming friendly with Tara’s sworn enemy, and the best thing about the new school year is getting to be in robotics class.
Unlike the majority of the kids in Tara’s class however, Tara comes from a multi-cultural home. While both her parents are Jewish, her mother practiced Hinduism before converting. Apart from Tara’s aunt and cousin, the rest of her mother’s side of the family still lives in India. Even though she attends Hebrew School, Tara strongly identifies with her Indian side and a classmate’s nasty comments raise some doubts about whether or not she wants to go through with her Bat Mitzvah. Will she have to abandon her Indian heritage in order to truly be Jewish?
When I first started reading this book I sat down on my couch and didn’t move until I had finished. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah is such an incredibly lovely book that had it all: diverse characters (!!!), humor, a beautiful message. Tara came across as a real person, someone I could pass on the street. Her jealousy over playing third wheel to her bestie’s new friend, panic over accidentally ruining a precious heirloom, all the confusion that comes with her best boy friend kinda-sorta-maybe wanting to be a boyfriend. It was all beautifully done. Tara had such wonderful character development throughout the novel – and she wasn’t the only one! Other characters had an amazing amount of depth, particularly Mean Girl Sheila. & get this: not only were Tara’s parents ever-present, but her grandmother, aunt, and even her friends’ parents played key roles!
Perhaps what really won me over was that I could relate to Tara. I come from a Jewish-Catholic family and while I was raised Catholic, my family still observes certain Jewish traditions and holidays. I understood Tara’s conflicting emotions. If she had her Bat Mitzvah, would she have to forget all about her beloved grandparents, her Nana and Nanaji? Would she be unable to enjoy her favorite Bollywood movies? Tara’s personal journey to discovering herself was beautiful and I was cheering her on every step of the way. And if I didn’t already love her to pieces, the fact that she wanted to wear a sari and serve traditional Indian food at her Bat Mitzvah totally would have won me over.
As an added bonus, at the very end of the book there’s a multi-page glossary that covers a variety of Yiddish/Hebrew/Punjabi terms and of course I thought that was awesome! Seriously, I could prattle on about My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for days. It was a delightful, beautiful story about a girl discovering who she is and I loved it. I strongly recommend buying a copy!