Another Monday, another book review. 🙂
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
Now this is a book kids will like! Tara’s family is mixed – Jewish and Indian, and she’s not sure where she fits in. Gran, a typical Jewish grandma, is her favorite person – next to her beloved Nanaji, her Indian grandfather who has died. Compounding Tara’s spiritual concerns – can you be bat mitzvahed if you don’t believe in God? – are her friendships with Ben-o and Rebecca. Best friends for their whole lives, Ben-o seems to want something more. But Tara doesn’t want to lose him as a friend – though she does wonder what it would be like to kiss him. And Rebecca now walks to school with Sheila Rosenberg, Miss Priss herself.
Freedman has written a cute coming of age story that mixes both Indian and Jewish ways of life – much like Tara’s Meena Auntie plops some chili powder and spices into Gran’s famous matzo ball soup. Her characters are spot on – their voices real and individual. Freedman is funny and yet addresses concerns many kids have as they enter middle school, much as Judy Blume has before her, both social and spiritual.
I was transported back to my own bat mitzvah prep in junior high, complete with questions about God, my relationship with both sides of a blended family, and the changing dynamics of friendships (not that I would have called it that back then!). But even readers with a single cultural identity will relate to Tara and her friends as she experiences a year of firsts.
Four stars for heart-warming, thought-provoking fun!