Thursday, December 8, 2011

Palate Cleanser: The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen

Today I am unveiling a new feature on my blog: Palate Cleansers.  These will be gentle reads that I could hand to anyone capable of reading them, and not worry.  If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a gentle read, it's a term librarians use to describe a genre that contains feel-good books, ones with no strong language, sex, or violence, and typically have happy-endings.  Before you yawn, though, these books can be very interesting without relying on edgy topics or breathtaking action.  They can often offer delightful new worlds.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins is a book I would consider a gentle read.  Let me tell you about it.
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Aimed at teen girls, but suitable for anyone capable of reading it
Source: Bought on clearance at Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Sunita Sen was living a normal life in California, attending middle school, becoming closer with one of her male friends, and hanging out with her best friend.  Then her grandparents from India come to visit for a year, and turn her world upside-down as her mother takes leave from her teaching position at a university and tries to be the perfect Indian woman.  How will Sunita ever cope?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This book could be of interest to sociologists studying the lives of second-generation Americans in fiction.  That's what this novel is.  Sunita's parents immigrated to the United States from India, found employment, and are working on raising three children with a mixture of traditional Indian and contemporary American cultures.  Our protagonist, known to classmates as Sunni, is the youngest child, still at home and attending eighth grade.  Her life was what she considered to be normal.  But then she got culture shock when her grandparents came for a visit.  Her mother took a year off from work and started wearing sarees, and forbade Sunita to have any male friends over.  Oh noes!  What ever shall she do?

I was expecting something along those lines when I picked out this novel, and I got what I anticipated.  I enjoy these slice-of-life books that highlight different ethnic lifestyles.  A book about an Indian-American girl also goes well with leftovers from my local Middle Eastern/Indian restaurant.  (Sadly, the Rubaiyat is closing at the end of the year.  Upper Michigan's cuisine scene shall greatly suffer for the loss!)

The characters are fun and believable.  Sunita's best friend Liz is particularly notable.  She's a bespectacled bookworm who Sunni thought wasn't into boys, but has a lot more going on in her head than her best friend realizes.  I liked her a lot.  Sunni also becomes close with her Dadu, or grandfather, with his tales of life in India (particularly the story of how he met his wife) and his hard work in her family's backyard.

This book is older than I thought when I bought it.  The current title was published in 2005.  Originally, it dates back to 1993, under the title The Sunita Experiment.  Still, it's an excellent book, which I could recommend to anyone interested in the immigrant experience or middle school life.


  1. Doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but I'm glad you've found another solid addition to the library. :)

  2. LOL! I just sent an email to you, saying this probably wasn't your cup of tea. Great minds and all that. :)

  3. What a great review! I love Mitali Perkins- she's a terrific writer, a wonderful person, and an important voice for diversity in youth fiction. I haven't read this one, so I'll see if I can pick it up!

  4. John Michael CummingsDecember 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    : book review request by award-winning author

    Dear Moonlit Librarian:

    I'm an award-winning author with a new YA book out this fall. Ugly To Start With is a series of thirteen interrelated stories about childhood being published by West Virginia University Press.

    Can I interest you in reviewing it?

    If you write me back at, I can email you a PDF of my book. If you require a bound copy, please ask, and I will forward your reply to my publisher. Or you can write directly to Abby Freeland at:

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    Here’s what Jacob Appel, celebrated author of
    Dyads and The Vermin Episode, says about my new collection: "In Ugly to Start With, set in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, Cummings tackles the challenges of boyhood adventure and family conflict in a taut, crystalline style that captures the triumphs and tribulations of small-town life. He has a gift for transcending the particular experiences to his characters to capture the universal truths of human affection and suffering--emotional truths that the members of his audience will recognize from their own experiences of childhood and adolescence.”

    My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. My short story "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

    I am also the author of the nationally acclaimed coming-of-age novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel Books, Penguin Group, 2009), winner of The Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers (Grades 7-12) and one of ten books recommended by USA TODAY.

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    Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing back from you.


    John Michael Cummings