Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Bibliographic Information: Desai Hidier, T. (2003). Born Confused. New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks.  ISBN: 0439510112.  512 pages.

Plot Summary: Dimple Lala was born in America to Indian immigrant parents.  Somewhere between her Indian ancestry and her New Jersey upbringing Dimple seeks answers about who she is and who she wants to be.  Dimple’s best friend, Gwyn, does not seem confused at all about who she is and where she belongs.  When Gwyn enters the room, people notice; she is blonde, blue-eyed, outgoing, tall, and strikingly beautiful.   Dimple would not use any of those words to describe herself.  Dimple goes along for the ride with Gwyn, and sometimes gets noticed for her proximity to Gwyn, but rarely does she feel seen herself.  In fact, she spends a lot time alone seeing others through the lens of her much-loved camera that she has named Chica Tikka.  Dimple and Gwyn have been best friends since they were little, and their love for each other is strong.  But this summer, the one when Dimple turns seventeen, things begin to get complicated.  Dimple starts to unravel the complexities of her identity and her feelings toward Karsh, “ a suitable Indian boy” her parents try to set her up with.  Before she meets him, she rejects even the possibility of liking Karsh, as she does not want her parents picking her boyfriend for her.  But, slowly, she realizes, to her pleasant surprise, that Karsh may not be quite as “suitable” as her parents think, and she starts to have feelings for him.  Karsh is also the object of Gwyn’s affection, who, unaware of Dimple’s feelings, asks Dimple to help her get Karsh’s attention by wearing Dimple’s Indian clothing and jewelry.  Can their friendship endure the strain?  Told in the self-deprecating, witty, and charming voice of Dimple, Born Confused provides an authentic look at life from the perspective of one young woman ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).

Critical Evaluation: The themes in Born Confused feel comfortingly familiar for a teen novel: friendship, first love, and identity.  But the book is anything but typical.  Woven throughout her journeys into her teenage life is Dimple’s deep connection to Indian culture, the traditions, the food, the people.  Desai Hidier’s Dimple will make readers smile, as she is sarcastic and quick witted and at the same time caring and sensitive.  Readers will be moved by Dimple, will lament her failures and cheer her successes.  Born Confused, a Larry King pick of the week, an ALA Best Books for Young Adults book of the year, and a Sunday Times (Times of London) book of the week, is a great addition to a multicultural teen collection.  Teen children of Indian Parents living in American will likely find some, if not many, of their experiences reflected in Dimple, and American teens with immigrant parents or whose parents were born in the US will have the opportunity to see the world through Dimple’s eyes and discover the similarities as well as differences in their experiences. Though the book might benefit from a bit of editing to shorten and focus the story, it is nonetheless well worth the read.

Reader’s Annotation: Born in America to Indian immigrant parents, Dimple Lala is caught between two worlds, never feeling like she quite fits in to either one.  The summer she turns seventeen is an eventful one, as she traverses the complex worlds of identity, friendship, and first love.

Information about the Author: Though the book Born Confused is not autobiographical, author Tanuja Desai Hidier drew from her family’s history and her personal experiences to create Dimple Lala.  She, like Dimple, grew up in a South Asian home in a town with very few people of color.  She says that she wrote Born Confused, “To make sense of things, to shape a period of cultural confusion and cultural exhilaration—which can be one and the same thing at times! What does it mean to be Indian? To be South Asian? And, at the heart of that: To be American? And at the soul within that heart: To be yourself?” (www.thisistanuja.com, FAQ’s).

Born Confused is Desai Hidier’s first book, but she has published several short stories, made a short film, and is a singer and songwriter as well.  She has adapted Born Confused into screenplay and it is in development with IndieVest Pictures.

Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Topics Covered: Identity, Race, Immigrants, Friendship, Love, Music, Indian Americans, Bhangra, Family

Curriculum Ties: Immigrants, children of immigrants, family, race in the United States, social studies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about being in between two worlds
  • Talk about Dimple and Gwyn’s relationship as things start to tense
  • Discuss Gwyn’s appropriation of Dimple’s culture
  • Read Dimple’s description of how good she feels being in her dark room

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 – 19 years

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? Originally, I found the book while researching the journal, MultiCultural Review, which critically praised the book, as did reviewers from VOYA, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.  Born Confused portrays a unique perspective, that of an American Born teenage girl of Indian ancestry.  While there are excellent books about South Asian young adults, these books are not abundant.  But, South Asian American teens, like all teens, deserve to have their stories told and to see themselves reflected in the books they read.  Additionally, Dimple Lala has important things to share with teens from all backgrounds

References:

Ringler, R. (2003). Born Confused (Book). Multicultural Review, 12(3), 103.

Makhijani, P. (2010). More than Monkeys, Maharajahs, and Mangoes: South Asian Literature for Your Readers. Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(1), 14-17.

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