by Neesha Meminger. Simon & Schuster 2009. Review copy.
First sentence: "There is a man wearing a turban ringing our doorbell. I walk slowly up the driveway and stop a safe, short distance from him as he rings again."
That opening hooked me right in. The story is set post 9/11 in New Jersey. A major theme of the book is the backlash in American culture against anyone who looks in any way like an Arab or Middle Eastern person who might be a terrorist. The main character is third generation Indian American, raised with little connection to her family's Indian culture.
Samar is a high school girl living with her single mom. Her parents divorced when she was small and she doesn't see her dad anymore. Her mom is estranged from her grandparents who are first generation Indian emigrants. Her mom rebelled against her parents as a teen because they were too strict with the traditional Indian ways. The man ringing the doorbell in the opening chapter is Samar's uncle, come to find them and re-establish connections in an attempt to build up family bonding in a time of intense of racism.
The title Shine, Coconut Moon refers to the slang term "coconut" which means an Asian person who is "white" on the inside and brown on the outside. Samar gets called a coconut and often feels like one because she has missed so much of her Indian heritage by being cut off from her grandparents and her father.
There have been incidents of racial epithets hurled from passing cars, garbage thrown at turbaned men, and sneers and questions from friends and classmates about strangers who look like one of "them". Samar is frightened and confused but she deeply longs for more family connection. She is searching for her full identity and trying to figure out how to respond to the racism she has experienced. She learns about the history of Japanese interment camps and sees similarities with the current political climate. She learns about her uncle's Sikh religion, which is completely different from being Muslim. She discovers who her real friends are and sees the ugly side to her boyfriend. She finally gets her dream of meeting her grandparents and finds it is not as simple or easy as she thought it would be.
I enjoyed reading the experiences and perspective given in this novel. I think it will stimulate thoughtful responses from a variety of readers. I'd love to hear a diverse group of teens discuss this book and see how they relate to Samar. One weakness of the book is that it tends to get a bit preachy at times, when Samar goes on about the lessons she's learned. I think readers can draw their own conclusions and don't need it spelled out quite so directly, but maybe that's just me. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's read the book. What did you think?
Interview with the author and review here.
Golden Girls' YA/Teen review blog.
Another review on teen Krista's blog Tower of Books here.
Another interview at Kimberly Derting's blog.
One more interesting interview addressing Neesha's own experiences and how she draws on them to write the book at the 10'res blog.