Monday, April 28, 2014

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Main character:  almost-17 year old Dimple Lala
Location: New Jersey, Manhattan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA fiction, children of immigrants

Dimple Lala is a high school student, a first-generation Indian American who is trying so hard to be American that she is in danger of leaving the Indian behind.  Her best friend, Gwyn, is a golden goddess, a blonde and beautiful all-American girl, and Dimple wants to be more like her.  Gwyn, on the other hand, wants to be more like Dimple--a girl with two parents who love her and each other and who has a wonderfully exotic cultural heritage.

When Dimple's parents want her to meet the son of a family friend, Dimple is predisposed to not like him--she wants to choose someone of her own to fall in love with, not have her parents arrange her life for her.  The first meeting with Karsh does not go well, but as she encounters him in different situations and learns more about him she finds herself drawn to him.  The trouble is Gwyn is also attracted to Karsh and who could possibly see Dimple when Gwyn is in the room (or so Dimple thinks.)

In the beginning of the book, Dimple is really very self-centered.  Her parents don't understand her, they don't understand her photography, they embarrass her.  As we progress though the summer, however, she comes to learn to look outside herself.  She hears stories about her parents from Karsh's mother--about how her mother was a dancer who was good enough to make a career of it but who gave it up to be a wife and mother, about how her father was a simple country boy who was absolutely floored by the beautiful dancer--and about Gwyn's unhappy and neglected childhood when Gwyn tells Karsh.  These were stories Dimple never heard before, but then again she never asked.

Dimple's own passion is her photography and that is a metaphor for her journey during this summer.  At first she only works with black-and-white film, just like she sees everything in black or white.  A cousin who has come from India to go to college in New York gives her a large supply of color film to work with.  This cousin also opens Dimple's eyes to a world beyond her suburban New Jersey life--a world that includes many Indians/Indian Americans/South Asians who are also trying to understand themselves and their place in the world.

This book was originally published in 2003, and is being republished in paperback in anticipation of the sequel coming out in a few months.  At first, not realizing that it was a reprint, I was a little off kilter because of some of the the 11 year old details.  For one thing, Dimple works with film rather than digital pictures.  It really is necessary for her to work with film--being in the darkroom and developing and printing her own pictures is the one place Dimple can really be herself.  In developing pictures, she reveals things; uploading a digital picture and editing with Photoshop would allow too much to be altered or hidden and would destroy the metaphor. 

I really loved the use of language in this book.  The parents have a way of creating rhyming phrases that suggest a musical lilt, and Gwyn's misuse of language is playful, like a secret code all her own.  The ending may be a little too perfect, too fairytale-like, but it feels right.

I read this book as an e-book from NetGalley.  This republication Born Confused is scheduled to be released April 29, 2014.

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