Sunday, 27 June 2010

Nerds Heart YA: Shine, Coconut Moon VS Skunk Girl

And here we are again for a second year of Nerds Heart YA. I'm judging the first round again. The books I have read are

  • Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
  • Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

The Summary
Samar is a seventeen-year-old girl living in Linton, New Jersey. Her family is of Indian origins but her mother, who brought her up as a single parent, has always tried to keep her away from her heritage and her grandparents. She's taught Samar to feel like an American, rather than Indian, with the same rights and freedoms of any other citizen, regardless of her ethnicity, but her mother's intentions to save Samar from the restrictions that she had to endure as a child are turning her into a coconut: brown on the outside and white on the inside.
An unexpected reunion with uncle Sandeep, whom Samar had never met, soon after the 9/11 attacks, ignites Samar's need to reconnect with her heritage and find out more about herself.

What I liked:
I thought the idea of linking the typical teenager's need of self-discovery to the exploration of one's cultural identity was a great idea. When Samar says: I couldn't feel more different. I feel like the epitome of different - from everyone. I feel like there's no one else like me on this whole planet she's channeling, unknowingly, the spirit of being a teenager. In her case it's symbolised by her new-found origins. But I challenge anyone to raise their hand and say they haven't felt this way at 17.
The 9/11 setting added some edginess, some uncomfortable moments, which at first they felt a bit deliberate but they all came together in the end.
Of course, I loved learning about Sikh culture, of which I know little about. Especially what it is like for a Sikh to live away from the homeland and still carry on the faith. Just as much as I was interested in reading about being a Muslim in Does my head look big in this? I enjoyed the parts which dealt with the rituals and the traditions of the Sikh.
Regarding the characters,I must say I loved uncle Sandeep. He's the sweetest, most likeable character, always ready to help, to talk, to hug. Although he's a bit too willing to please Samar and do whatever she asks him to do. Also, for all her faults, I thought Samar's mother was an example of an independent spirit, a women who rebelled and tried to instill the same spirit into her daughter, with unexpected results. I couldn't not like her.

What I didn't like:
Unfortunately I found Samar's character to be flat and occasionally annoying. Aside from her journey of self-discovery, there wasn't anything that made her stand out as a person. Was that the point? That she needed to find her true identity before developing a personality? I don't know, but aside from being a rebelling teenager, which is normal, I couldn't find any special likable qualities about her. At some point I even thought she was taking her anger against her mother a bit too far and I ended up siding with her mother. Am I getting too old?
Actually all the teenager characters were sort of bland, bordering toward boring, which was a little disappointing.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

The Summary:
At 16-year-old, Nina Khan had two main things that plagued her life: the constant comparison to the super genius older sister and body hair.
She's also from a Pakistan family and one of the only brown kids in her school, which, as she puts, sucks.
It's not that I hate high school. It's just that I wish it would hurry up and end already.
A part from that, she's a normal teenager, who has friends, and would like to party and date like any other kid. But her family, unlike Samar's, is of the strict kind and won't allow Nina to mingle with boys. Things, of course, get harder for her, when a new kid, Asher Richelli, arrives in school and Nina falls for his Italian charm, like half of the female population in the school.

What I liked:
First of all, the writing was excellent. I loved Nina. She's smart, pessimistic and sarcastic, and completely lovable. You just want to squeeze her in a bear hug and tell her she's gorgeous. I also loved her friends, Bridget and Helena. Bridget seems to be the perfect Sagittarian: athletic but clumsy, and always blurting out whatever comes up in her head. Helena is the romantic, pretty type, always looking for the endless love, and always looking at the positive side of things. They are great counterparts for Nina's shy personality.
I also thought Nina's family was very likable. They are strict Muslims, but they visible love their daughter to bits. You can see it in her dad, especially, in his awkward attempts at bonding with Nina. So adorable. Also irresistible is his love for food, for Sufi mystical music, and for bear hugs.
All these great characters come to life thanks to Nina's hilarious sarcastic comments and humour. I frequently laughed out loud, while I kept my grin on almost all the time. And what can I do, books that make me laugh will always win my heart.
Like Shine, Cononut Moon, Skunk Girl is a journey of discovery. But unlike the other, this story is more about acceptance. As a teenager Nina feels restricted and repressed, but she also slowly comes to realise what a great gift it is to have a family who loves you and will care for you always.
Her parents are very similar to Samar's grandparents, and it'd be interesting to see how the two characters would fare if they could swap families. Nina would experience a greater freedom, but wouldn't be part of a bigger community of people sharing the same cultural background. Samar would understand what it meant for her mother to live under repressive rules, but would experience that comforting choral feeling of big family reunions. I think it would enrich both of them

What I didn't like:
Not much. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but not completely. I knew it had to be that way, I just can't help wishing Nina would stand up to her parents just a bit more. Her religion seems to be imposed on her, as something she can't change, just accept, while I'd love for her to be free to experience teenage love without fearing her parent's fury. But I guess that's just how things are sometimes.
All in all, it was a great realistic insight into a Pakistani girl's life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, decision time. I'd say you will have guessed by now, but let's make it official.
The book that will go to the next round is:

Skunk Girl!


Amanda said...

I just read Shine, Coconut Moon and really loved it, so if you think Skunk Girl is even better I'm looking forward to reading that one!

valentina said...

I dind't really love Shine, coconut moon but I adored Skunk Girl. You and I have very different tastes sometimes, so I wonder if you'd think the same. I still recommend Skunk Girl very much though, it's one my favourite YA of the year so far!

Lenore Appelhans said...

You made Skunk Girl sound wonderful. I hope it goes far!

Jodie said...

Thanks so much for being a judge this year valentina and for creating a thoughtful post about both books. I think these were two of the books I was most interested in when we started getting NHYA nominations (and one is on my shelf already) so glad to hear they both have some strong points. I was also wondering if the post 9/11 connection might feel a bit too current if you know what I mean, too deliberately topical, but it seems like they strike a nice balance?

We're so close to the end of round one now and there are going to be some really interesting second round pairings!

valentina said...

Lenore, me too!:)

Jodie, I don't think the 9/11 theme is too current. It's been 10 years now, and many other books have delved into it, to explore its consequences on people's lives. I thought it was deliberate at the beginning, because I couldn't see how it connected with Samar's experience. Other than her uncle being abused because he wears a turban (like Osama, but very different, as he's Sikh), it seemed it was used just as an excuse to make the two families unite again. But I liked it at the end, how it all came together.