A Girl Like Me - Book Review

I picked up this gem of a book on a whim. The introduction clearly mentioned that the main character was a 16 year old girl transplanted from USA to India and it seemed like a transatlantic coming of age story. A little too simplistic for my taste, I felt. But I needed a light read and it seemed harmless enough. Once I started reading it, I just kept turning page after page and finished reading the 300-odd pages in a span of 24 hours.

Sixteen year-old Annie (Anisha) Rai moves to Gurgaon with her mother Isha and they start a new life almost three years after the death of Anisha's father. Author Swati Kaushal gives an authentic first-person account of life in a new school, NPS, in Class XI where Anisha makes friends with Richa, Somes, Nikki and of course with her childhood friend Keds who eases her transition. Descriptions of Gurgaon, including the fickle Delhi weather are truthfully described but the poignant passages are the ones where Anisha remembers her Dad, with beautiful descriptions of Minnesota.

The story begins with Isha's social circle consisting of old friends, parents of Keds, but grows with other characters including the mysterious neighbor JD, and the Bajaj family upstairs and their poor cousin Rani whom Anisha befriends. For typical teenage drama, there are couples like Nikki and Keds, Richa with an ever-changing boyfriend until heart-throb Kunal enters the mix. The parts describing their school lives are realistic and easy going. The interactions between the amazing but workaholic Mom Isha whom Anisha seems to adore seems genuine. When the story takes a turn, that is when Anisha's angst at her mother's preoccupation with work and other distractions bring to light real-life situations which are extremely significant in the life of a teenager seeking support as she navigates the treacherous years.

I enjoyed the book immensely because I loved all the well-etched characters, Keds, Rani, JD, Anisha and Isha. I frankly cannot choose a favorite between Isha and Anisha. The dialog is crisp and the descriptions are outstanding. Here is an example:"The beads of rain that lengthen and drip off the curved rim of the parapet glisten in the crevices of the latticework. They are shot through with pinpricks of light: one moment they are a queen's necklace, the next a shimmering crown. I lie back in my chair and watch them shift shapes, watch the dance of the droplets that collect and swell at the undulating edge of the awning above my head, as they dive down to the puddles in the red brick below them, as they shatter and shimmer and regroup into countless miniature pools."

While the book covers the unlikely (but possible) situation of an American-born Indian teenager coming to live in India, it is an extremely balanced view of what India offers to those who come back "home". In the span of a few months in Anisha's life, we see India through new eyes and grow wiser with her as she looks back with a new perspective on her own past. The book ends well, not all neatly tied up as in the movies, but with hope for a future where everyone can make better choices.