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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review: Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger


Title: Shine, Coconut Moon
Author(s): Neesha Meminger
Genre: YA Contemporary lit
Page Count: 253
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

The Summary:: Seventeen-year-old Samar -- a.k.a. Sam -- has never known much about her Indian heritage. Her mom has deliberately kept Sam away from her old-fashioned family. It's never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a really cute but demanding boyfriend.

But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam's house, and he turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam isn't sure what to do, until a girl at school calls her a coconut -- brown on the outside, white on the inside. That decides it: Why shouldn't Sam get to know her family? What is her mom so afraid of? Then some boys attack her uncle, shouting, "Go back home, Osama!" and Sam realizes she could be in danger -- and also discovers how dangerous ignorance can be. Sam will need all her smarts and savvy to try to bridge two worlds and make them both her own. (Summary from cover flap)

The Review: I’m so, so glad that I got to finally finish this novel, since the last time I had the book in my hands I had to return it to the library even though I was barely a couple chapters in, or suffer fines. This novel really had me by the heartstrings. I was cheering, laughing, crying and hurting all the way through. It was a really great read, and also not what I expected - I walked in expecting a novel about racial identity and racial prejudice, and while that is very much a part of the story, the theme that struck the biggest chord with me was the family themes.

Okay, okay, but first, let’s back up a bit. Confession: I find that my impressions of a novel are often influenced by who ends up being my favourite character in the novel. I fully expected to get into Samar’s head and sympathize with her the most, etc. Instead, I ended up falling in love with the uber adorable, dorky, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly Uncle Sandeep, paunch and all. He was too cute! I don't care if he's too old for me.. I loved Uncle Sandeep’s interactions with his sister, aka Samar’s mother, the most, and the little stories of their shared childhood past they use against one another. They have this sibling banter that’s sweet and can be a little mean in the having-grown-up-together-as-a-family way. His goal upon landing on Samar’s house was to reunite his family, and as such, I ended up taking away the family themes the most, them making the biggest impressions on my mind.

A big part of the story’s drive, next to Samar’s search for her Sikh roots, is her desire to reunite with her grandparents, her extended family. And I love how Meminger took this further, that this wasn’t just about having a copycat Molly version of a big family gathering of fun, but being part of a family is tied with a sense of history, that you have generations and generations of people who look like you and have a common past. It’s a sense of being rooted and anchored, I think, and I liked how her search for her family and history gives Samar a bigger sense of self.

This novel was, for me, filled with little moments of human interaction that took me by the heart. Like the times when Samar leans for her mother into a hug, or the moment when Samar was in the gurdwara. Also, there was this part where Samar made friends with Balvir, a South Asian, and Balvir had this whole talk about how Sikh’s weren’t Muslim and then Shazia says “Balvir, you want to distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims because of… what? Do you think that the violence will be less if you do?” (213) This, along with the Japanese internment camp comparisons made in the novel to 9/11, struck me because it reminded me of what happened post-Pearl Harbour attack. When the Japanese were viewed as “the enemy”, I remember reading that in the US, the Chinese population started wearing these “I am a Chinese” buttons, as if separating us from them would make a difference, would lessen the race-driven hate crimes, the hostilities. I felt like there was this common theme of the past being reflected in the present, from the little things like how Samar sees herself and her mom in her grandmother’s eyes to the Japanese internment camp links, and being into history, I like that.

There were also many painful moments in the novel, especially between Samar and her jerk of a boyfriend, Mike. Everything he said, from the moment he was all to Samar “You could pass for a Mexican”, it stung. (Also, he was a jerk about Uncle Sandeep and no one messes with my favourite character!!!) And the family reunion wasn’t all sweet and happy. After all, in the story, this family has been separated and broken for many years and the gap can’t be closed so easily. There were painful moments, words spoken to one another, past wounds reopened, but I honestly loved watching just the sheer effort of trying to bring the family back together again. It reflects that importance of having a family, of being part of a group that’s bigger than you, that roots you to a common history. This kind of thing is worth fighting for, worth sorting out past misunderstandings and hurts for.

What else is there to say? The characters felt real, the writing was fluid and easy to get into, etc etc. The whole 9/11 setting was good in the sense that I really liked how Meminger used it to draw attention to how the past is repeating itself and how the fear starts these series of hate crimes towards those who look like “the enemy” but there were little minor things here and there that didn’t add up for me, that detracted a little from the story. I don’t remember the year of 9/11 clearly, but I’m pretty sure that Project Runway wasn’t around at that time and a quick wiki reminded me that this was so. Krista in her review caught on to more of these little discrepancies that I missed. It detracted from the whole sense of time and place of USA post 9/11, but not enough for me to stop enjoying the read.

The Verdict: On the whole, a very enjoyable read with great themes of identity and family, brilliant characters and little moments that evoke great emotions within the reader. I’d recommend this novel to anyone. If nothing else, read it for the adorable Uncle Sandeep of adorable-ness. Sweetest guy ever, I swear. ♥ (HOW is he divorced? I’d marry him)

Rating: 4/5
Enjoyment: 100%

Title and Cover Discussion: lol Shine, Coconut Moon is one of those titles that didn't make sense to me when I first see it, but comes together if you read the novel. Points for having a title that actually is related to the story (so many titles, I find, are just so random and unrelated. T_T) but minus points for title that doesn't make its meaning clear when you see it. Like, for instance, when I first saw this title I thought that maybe there was some kid in this novel not yet revealed in the summary called Coconut Moon (and named by drugged up hippie parents). But hey, it's an interesting title if a little bizarre at first sight, so w/e~. Now, the cover. 1) I hate, hate, hate faceless covers, and this one commits the crime of not only haven't one faceless person, but two. Also, I have this sinking suspicion that the guy next to Samar is her douche of a boyfriend and RAWR MAI HAIT. *kicks loser boyfriend* I think Uncle Sandeep and her mom Sharan should have been in the cover with Samar instead. Or maybe just Uncle Sandeep. I can deal with that.

Title: B-
Cover: F (I wanted to pass this cover, but I HATE THE LOSER BOYFRIEND. Sorry, peeps.)

8 comments:

susan said...

Ah Yuan,
Glad to see your review. The cover issue is a long-standing one with books with people of color. Take up your criticism with the publishing industry that thinks white readers find it hard to identify with people of color on the cover. So, if you see the POC face on the book cover, it's for a POC audience. No face means the target audience is everybody. Don't get me started on how I feel about this logic.

Do come by Black-Eyed Susan's for my current rant about how black literature for children and YA are pigeon-holed.

Dannie said...

Wow, great review! I don't usually go for the whole "racial understanding" books, because they often come out as preachy, but I might pick this one up if I see it around. Thanks for the rec!

MissAttitude said...

Awesome review, you really get to the heart of a book so much better than I do! i'm jealous and one of my new year's resolutions is to write better reviews (perhaps shorter and more to the point).
I'm really glad you liked Shine, Coconut Moon. Ugh the cover annoys me too although I never noticed Mike till I saw a comment by the author about the cover and how she wasn't a fan (I think). Now I just ignore him, but I wish Samar had a face! Oh a cover with samar and Uncle Sandeep would be awesome, especially with his turban. That would be eye-catching.

choco (In Which a Girl Reads) said...

Great review!

I read this book a while ago so my memory's a bit fuzzy. What you pointed out about the cover I agree with 100%, haha. I hadn't noticed that was the boyfriend. Wow. Yeah, I don't like the cover either :)

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

@susan,

Oh yeah, I've been seeing trends with POC covers and they don't exactly bring me to my happy place. T_T

@Dannie,
Ack, yeah, I hate preachy books too. I do hope you pick it up and enjoy it! =D

@MissAttitude,
*blushes* lol you flatter me. You're so sweet. =D
Yesssss Samar with a face cover!! Maybe we'll be lucky and they change the cover for the paperback?

@Choco,
I'm hoping they change the cover for the paperback version. *prays*

susan said...

I'd be curious to know which preachy books turned Danni off. I read a lot of POC fiction and I can't say any of it was preachy.

Cleverly Inked said...

Almost random book names interesting. This seems like a MUST read you seem very passionate about it

Neesha Meminger said...

Thanks for reading and reviewing SHINE! I have to say that I completely agree with the objectified, headless woman argument. However, I still like the cover! The reason I actually love it is because we so rarely see a depiction of young, Indian-American/South Asian women who are tough, hip, sexy, and confident. And this cover, in my opinion, captures that feel. The model is facing out, toward the viewer, not toward the (almost invisible) boyfriend, her hand is hooked into the belt loop of her jeans in a fist, and she is unabashed about the skin she's showing. She's not shy, she's not afraid, and she's not coquettish or flirty. She is ready to face the world and take it on! :)

I love the discussion here, and elsewhere, about covers, though, and if you're interested in the back story to this cover, I have it up on my blog (http://neeshameminger.blogspot.com/2009/08/shine-cover-story.html).

Thanks, again, for a thoughtful, well-written review, Ah Yuan! And it was lovely to meet you :).