Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Review: First Daughter

White House Rules by Mitali Perkins. Dutton, January, 2008. Age 10 & up. (Advanced Review Copy) This is one of the books featured this month at Fusion Stories for Asian/Pacific Heritage month. It's the second book by Perkins about Sparrow/Sameera Righton, newly elected president's daughter. Living in the White House with her parents and her farm country cousin is fun and adventure for Sparrow. She has a budding romance with an Indian American boy and launches a campaign with her parents to attend a D. C. public high school. It's a sweet story about an all American family seeking to make a difference in the world. Sparrow cares about building friendships, staying close to her parents, being honest and ethical and finding her place in the world as a writer. She keeps a blog and encourages her cousin to start a cookie baking business in the White House kitchens.

Sameera is Pakistani American, adopted by her Caucasian parents when she was three. She has a crush on an Indian boy named Bobby, whom she met in the previous book called First Daughter: Extreme Makeover. When Bobby's grandfather becomes seriously ill back in India he has to leave Washington to be with his family. He tells her he would like to get to know her better but he can't do it without his family's permission. He is afraid his grandfather will not approve because she is ethnically Muslim and they are Hindu. Sameera's family is Christian and her faith is important to her but she respects Bobby all the more because of his respect and love for his grandfather.

Sameera doesn't feel Muslim. Her parents raised her Christian and she has embraced that faith. She does understand herself to be "brown" and Pakistani, however, even when her mother doesn't seem to get that part of her. When Sameera lets us know she prefers to be called "Sameera", her Pakistani name, instead of the nickname "Sparrow" that her family uses, we see a little of her cross-culture heart. When Sameera speaks a few words of Urdu her mother says "You sound like the real thing" but Sameera thinks I am the real thing. This kind of adoption and cross-culture kid theme runs through out the book, along with references to racism and interracial dating. The older generation folks have more hangups about it, but even Miranda confesses at one point that she didn't expect a their white woman friend to think of their hot security detail male friend as a potential date until Sameera suggested it. These references throughout the book make it a bridge to conversations about race and ethnicity among readers, which is one of my favorite features.

Another interesting thread is that Sameera and her cousin Miranda have a thing they call the "Three Treasures". The theory is that you figure out the three most important qualities you want in a mate, look for a person with them, and then learn to ignore or tolerate whatever other habits they may have. They got the idea from a poem by Sara Teasdale called "Appraisal". Miranda's treasures are "Fun, Faith, and Family". Sameera posts the question on her blog to find out what her readers would chose. She wonders what Bobby's treasures are. By the end of the book she reveals that her treasures are Courage, Honesty, and Tenderness. I like how genuine the girls are about their faith and values. I like that Bobby is such a good person. I like how strong and healthy the family relationships in this book are, and how deeply the people connect. I love how Sameera and Miranda read poetry to each other and talk about how it reflects their lives.

I enjoyed reading the story but found myself feeling a little cynical about how mature and well balanced Sparrow is. Then I realized that I actually do know teenagers that are just like Sparrow and her friends. I think I've been trained by the media to think it's part of being a teenager and growing up to be rebellious and "bad" in order to establish independence from one's parents. But actually, becoming responsible and mature by making good decisions and handling oneself in a healthy, productive, ethical way is really what becoming an adult is all about. I've had students who lived like Sameera, showing respect to their parents by getting permission before dating. The guy I dated for three years of high school was like that in fact. My oldest son, who is now 20, was a nice teenager who liked hanging out with his family as much as his friends. I never had to worry what he was up to and I like the person he's turned out to be. Real teens are often just as nice as the characters in this book.

It might feel a little bit of a stretch to think of the President's daughter being so wholesome and genuine, but really I think that might be the old cynical media story muddying the waters. Most people are this good. It's nice to read a story that celebrates that! I highly recommend this book to kids in 5th grade and up.


Sparrow's blog
Mitali on JacketFlap
Interview with Sparrow on Bildungsroman
Interview with Mitali on Big A, little a
Interview with Mitali on PaperTigers
Semicolon review
BiblioFile review
Archimedes Forgets review


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great book and as someone who works with teenagers I can assure you that there really ARE some who are amazingly self-reflective and inspiringly put together.

Not ignoring your meme tag, just SWAMPED... hope to dig in this w/e.

Tarie Sabido said...

Ooohhh, I just read this book! I like how it is "a bridge to conversations" (you put it perfectly) about race and ethnicity, as well as culture, religion, and socioeconomic background.

I also loved being introduced to Sara Teasdale and "Appraisal" through this book. :o)