Fifteen-year-old Veena Solomon lives in Bahrain with her parents and brother, a transplanted Indian in an Arab country, although she attends Catholic school. Her family moved there to seek a better life than the one available in India. Her mother is Catholic by faith and worrier by profession (although she also works as a teacher in Veena's school). Veena is trying to figure out what she believes herself, especially when her fervent prayers to grow breasts and for gorgeous Rashid to fall in love with her go unanswered. When her teacher selects her to be Juliet in the Romeo and Juliet production, opposite her beloved Rashid, Veena needs an edge to set her above the other girls. Being Indian is very low on the totem pole in status-oriented Bahrain, where European/Whites are first, Arabs second, and brown-skinned Indians, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans are on the bottom. Veena is also small and flat-chested. She's suffering from an identity crisis, wondering what's so great about being Indian when all the Arab boys make fun of her accent and she isn't blond or big-breasted like one of her popular classmates. Veena learns that being herself is the best thing of all, even if playing Juliet will get her close to the boy of her dreams.
Bras, Boys and Blunders: Juliet and Romeo in Bahrain was an incredibly fun, engaging read. I loved the view into the life of a young Indian teen and how being Indian is something she has to learn to embrace. I appreciated this multicultural view in young adult fiction that doesn't seem as prevalent as I would like. I don't know much about growing up in an Arab country, especially as a person of a different nationality like Veena, and this book gave me a view into that life through Veena's eyes.
The great thing about this book is that while Veena's experiences are distinctive from the average American life, they really aren't that different when it comes down to it. Any person who survived teenage-hood knows how Veena feels. The awkwardness of fitting in and feeling like you never measure up. For female readers, we can also identify with the inherent struggles of the mother-daughter relationship, when our mothers have different goals then what we have in life, and they force us into molds that we don't fit. How we feel we can never measure up to their standards, and they don't really seem to understand where we are coming from.
Veena was a sweet girl. She inspires loyalty and a comradeship in this reader, as I read her about struggling through those everyday moments of young life that seem like major crises, however you live to fight another day. While Veena is Indian, she is surrounded by people of various cultures, and this can cause conflicts, as issues of religion and cultural morals dictate the choices that Veena has, even if they don't fit into her own belief system, which she is in the process figuring out. The secondary characters such as Kyle, an American boy who seems determined to be the Baddest White Boy in School, and who seems to have quite a crush on Veena, although she's oblivious, add a lot to this story. They provide insight and show that while we might feel we are lacking, others actually might envy and respect us for who we are.
The humor was fantastic. I was laughing out loud through most of this book, although Samson also gives the reader a lot to think about along with those hilarious moments. Samson's light, but vivacious narrative makes me want to read more young adult books like this, where the story is just about growing up, with no major plot devices necessary to prop up a story. Coming of age is very ripe subject because of so many everyday experiences a young person goes through that are full of inherent pathos and humor.
I am really glad I had the opportunity to read this book, and I hope to read more of Vidya Samson's writing. She is a talented writer who gave me a story I enjoyed, from beginning to end.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
*Reviewed by guest reviewer, Danielle Hill.
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