From the award-winning author of Finding Mighty, a moving middle-grade novel about finding your place by following your heart
Karthik Raghavan is good at remembering things. Like his bike routes. Or all the reasons he likes Juhi Shah—even if she doesn’t even know he exists. It doesn't help that she seems to have a crush on his arch nemesis, Jacob Donnell, whose only job is to humiliate Karthik (and get his name wrong). Then Karthik's luck changes when he secretly agrees to be in a play about the famous musician, Leonard Bernstein. But he can't tell his parents.
The family store is in jeopardy, and they need him delivering groceries on his bike to help save it. His mom is also worried about the Financial Crisis, and she's convinced that studying hard and staying focused is the only way to succeed. But Karthik is having fun being Lenny. Besides, what if acting is Karthik’s special talent? And what if acting is the one way to catch Juhi Shah’s attention? With all the pressure from his family to succeed, will Karthik be able to really imagine and hope when he’s not sure what will happen next?---from the publisher
272 pages 978-1419755224 Ages 10-14
Keywords: belonging, diversity, diverse books, performing arts, theater, family, secrets, being yourself, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, Indian American, South Asian American
Karthik lives with his parents and sister in Boston in 2009, where they have an Indian grocery store in the Allston neighborhood. Karthik has two friends that live nearby, Miles, who loves Boston history, and Binh, whose family runs a Vietnamese restaurant. Because the grocery store isn't doing all that well, Karthik's father has a new scheme for him to deliver groceries to customers within a two mile radius. It's a lot of work, and requires frequent ice cream breaks with his friends. During these, other kids from his school, Jacob and Hoodie, give him a hard time and make fun of his name. At one point, they even steal his money. They are friends with Juhi Shah, whom Karthik likes, and Sara Rimsky, a girl on whome Binh has a crush. The girls don't correct the boys, which is confusing to Karthik, especially after he and Juhi have a good conversation at temple while his sister is involved in a dance recital. One frequent customer of the store, Shanthi, is a student at Boston University in the playwriting program. She isn't talking to her parents, since they disagree with her path. She thinks that Karthik would be a great choice to play the lead in her short play about Leonard Bernstein, since he bears a passing resemblance to the musician and also has a good ability to memorize things, especially lists. Knowing his parents wouldn't want him to take time away from deliveries to do this, Shanthi places an order every day for two Fantas and a bag of spicy chips, and the two rehearse when he delivers. The grocery store continues to struggle, especially when a new restaurant, House of Chaat, opens nearby. This is run by Juhi's uncle, who had worked with Karthik's dad in the past. As the performance of the play approaches, Shanthi has Karthik participate in some local performance art, and sends out a flyer with his name on it. His parents aren't thrilled when they find out, especially since there are big changes in store for the family. Will Karthik be able to convince them that he can follow his own dreams and not necessarily theirs?
Strengths: This was a great book about a character in a specific setting doing several very interesting things! Just hanging out with his friends, eating ice cream and going to the different restaurants seemed like fun, and delivering the groceries introduced him to lots of different people whose lives he was able to positively affect. Add to that Shanthi and her play, which he hides from his well meaning but academically focued parents, and the story becomes a really fun juggling act. I loved how Karthik got to know more about his customers and started to like them more, and how his mother decides to go to school to become a doctor, since she is always pushing Karthik to do this so she can live vicariously. The 2009 setting makes sense, given the economic downturn of the time, and the father's struggles with the store were shown just enough-- we see how the family situation impacts Karthik. Juhi is a complicated character, and her interactions with Karthik are complicated but instructive. The racial problems are not a huge part of the story, but their inclusion gives depth to the characters. I really enjoyed this one, even if it did make me hungry for ice cream and Indian food!
Weaknesses: I got a bit confused as to where the family lived-- they seemed to hang out at the store a lot, and Karthik goes to school nearby, but they get a train to their home? Perhaps if I were more familiar with Boston, I would have understood this better.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this cover will appeal strongly to my readers. Chari has done interesting work with Finding Mighty and the Mars Patel series, but I think she's hit her stride here with this humorous, realistic story. A must purchase for middle school libraries.
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Teacher Librarian, Ohio USA
See more of her recommendations: msyinglingreads.blogspot.com