Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Bibliographic Information: Felin, M. S. (2007). Touching Snow. New York, NY: Atheneum.  ISBN: 1416917950.  240 pages.

Plot Summary: “The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone,” and thus starts the novel Touching Snow. Part thriller and mystery part coming-of-age and love story, Touching Snow details the struggles of 13-year-old Karina and her family.  Born in the US, to a Haitian immigrant mother, Karina lives in a town she calls “a place full of white folks.”  Being a racial and cultural outsider, as well as a bit quirky makes school socially AND academically problematic.  She might even be put in special education classes, if her grades and behavior don’t improve!  But these challenges are nothing compared to the horrific physical abuse Karina and her sisters suffer at the hands of their stepfather: “The Daddy.”  One misstep, and “The Daddy” could leave them bruised, broken, and bleeding…or worse.  Karina’s honest, riveting voice tells the reader, almost as a friend, of the brutal abuse she and her sisters suffer.  Karina is a member of a large extended Haitian immigrant family, but no one, not even the law, seems to be able to protect her and her sisters from the “beat-ups” that sometimes leave them just this side of dead. In addition to the extreme violence she is forced to withstand at home, outside of the home she is confronted with racism, and xenophobia. It is under these circumstances that Karina, prone to crushes on girls and fainting spells, struggles with schoolwork, making friends, and figuring out who she is.  Karina has dreams for a better future, but can she survive?

Critical Evaluation: Gripping from its first line, Touching Snow leads the reader on a disturbing, yet engrossing, journey into the life of Karina. The writing compels the reader to feel what Karina is experiencing, and to cheer for Karina’s survival, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Karina’s voice is honest and authentic as she describes the sometimes funny sometimes horrific events in her life.  Though the novel is set in the 1980’s, the characters grapple with issues that are present today and will, unfortunately, be present in the future. With complex and multi-faceted characters and disturbing violence, this book, though about a 13-year-old, is better suited to teens or more mature tweens. Karina’s brutal honesty and strong spirit will captivate readers in Felin’s compelling and gripping Touching Snow, an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Mystery, a National book award finalist, and an honoree for ALA and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults.

Reader’s Annotation: Karina and her sisters live in constant fear of their angry and violent stepfather.  Confronting terror at home and racism from the outside world, Karina’s life is hard.  Will she and her sisters all make it out alive?

Information about the Author: M. Sindy Felin herself grew up as the first member of her family born in the US.  She was raised, like Karina, in suburban New York by Haitian immigrant parents, was the first girl to attend college in her family, and her inspiration for Touching Snow came from social issues she observed in the Haitian immigrant community, including the resilience and resourcefulness of the families.

Felin now is a single mother to triplets!  Read about her experience here.

Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction,

Sub Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery; Issues: Social Concerns: Racism; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse

Curriculum Ties: Immigration, Health, English, Domestic Violence

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “‘The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone.’  And so begins the novel Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin.”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

Challenge Issues: Budding lesbian romance, violence.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included?  Critically praised and award-winning, Touching Snow is beautifully and authentically written.  Its protagonist, a teen girl of Haitian descent, in a budding lesbian relationship, brings an underrepresented, and authentic, voice to teen mysteries.  The mystery genre is surprisingly un-diverse, so this book, and others with characters of color, are especially important include in a collection for teens.

References:

2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2007_ypl_felin.html

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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.