The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins

Guest blogger Savannah Mansour here! Thanks, Mara, for letting me steal your platform for a second. I was just too excited about this Young Adult novel; I had to share it with your readers! Enjoy France!

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 3.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days (~6 hours)

A 1 Sentence Summary

Throughout her grandparents’ visit in the United States from India, Sunita Sen becomes aware of differences between the “Euro-Americans” and herself in her middle school which stir her to navigate social tensions and family dynamics so she can reconcile her Indian heritage and American upbringing and therein discover and accept her mosaic identity.

My Favorite Quotes

The winding dirt path leads through the mango trees. Soft shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees have dried some of the flatter parts of the ground. The boy’s cycle speeds easily over the path, avoiding holes and muddy puddles as though it doesn’t need his help. It stops obediently when he spots a ripe mango lying on the side of the path. He peels its thin skin off with his teeth and lets the sweet juice fill his mouth.

“Don’t get disillusioned, kid. Frances Burnett was a product of her time. India was under British rule for years, you know. You can still appreciate the story.”

“I forget you’re not a little girl anymore,” she said. “Someday you may wish you had made different choices. But I suppose, in a way, you’re right. You need to find your own balance, and I need to find mine.”

“That was all he said, but Sunita wrote the gist of it in her journal later. She might need to explain it to her grandchildren someday.”

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What I Loved About It

First, I just have to say how much I enjoyed reading this book meant for children. I don’t mean to start some sort of controversy – clearly young adult novels can be read an enjoyed by all. This book was straight up my alley.

A Search for Identity                            Family Drama

Strong, Honest  BFF                             Multicultural

The best thing about this book is the perspective author Perkins lends readers through Sunita’s multicultural awakening. The emotions of this eighth grader are so genuine and relatable. (I remember, and still often find myself, navigating the mother-daughter dynamic Sunita and her mother go through in the story.)

Although I rated the prose low (and that means a lot to me personally), the quick-moving storyline and interest in Sunita’s development kept me hooked. That being said, I have genuine interest in the immigrant- and 2nd generation-American experience. This may be the case for some students with personal ties, but most of my students probably couldn’t care less.

What My Students Could Learn From It

So basically, Mara and I are besties and we just talk about our kiddos all the time. We love ‘em and want the best for ‘em and the way we know to take care of them, like many of you reading teachers, is education through reading. Contemplating the myopia that plagues many people/youth today, I realized I had learned about different people and situations by fictional experience through the pages of childhood novels. As a kid, my favorite books were the American Girl series and the Magic Treehouse series. Each book transported me to another time and place and I didn’t just read about a Swedish girl’s arrival to American who tragically lost her best friend from Cholera, but within those pages, and often my ship-shaped playground, I became that little Swedish girl.

Another difference we all like to blame for lack of empathy is the rise of (yes, social media, but punnier…) the selfie. So less reading and more taking selfies/social media/self-absorption lends to a more short-sighted perspective of the world. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but really all I’m trying to say is ultimately:

The cure for myopia is… READING!

Okay, yeah, so that was a huge tangent. I got blog happy and felt the need to explain my obsession with flooding our schools and private libraries with multicultural literature. Here’s a quote that helps me understand my feelings:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller, author of The Meaning of Marriage

To love people, or even just extend them some empathy, we must have some level of knowledge of them. Through such perspective shaping experiences, we learn truth, humility, and hope. In fact, knowing and empathizing with other people helps us know and love ourselves. I know a classroom full of students who could use more empathy, hope, truth, and humility.

So back to Sunita Sen

I would love for anyone trying to reconcile two identities within his/herself to read this book. Students experiencing that situation will feel validated rather than other-ed by this text. Students not in a similar situation will get to experience what it might be like to feel caught between two cultures. No matter your situation, there is a lot to gain from reading the story of Sunita Sen’s experience.

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