What are you willing to look past in order to be happy?
Rani Kelkar just wants to take beautiful photographs, become a pediatrician and not disappoint her conservative Indian parents. That means focusing on school and applying to Chicago-area colleges—and absolutely no boys. But when she meets Oliver, a talented artist with tattoos, piercings and a rebel attitude, Rani quickly falls for him. However, it soon becomes clear that Oliver doesn’t understand or respect Rani’s Indian culture. What’s more, she’s lying to her parents, and her relationship with her best friend is straining under the weight of Rani and Oliver’s secret. It soon becomes clear that Rani must choose between her first love and herself.
American Betiya fearlessly portrays Rani’s struggle between honoring her Indian heritage and attempting to fit in with her peers. Debut author Anuradha D. Rajurkar evokes a sense of deep discomfort through Oliver’s behavior; every time he calls Rani “Princess Jasmine,” the words lie uneasily on the page. When Rani travels to India, Rajurkar depicts the beauty of the country and its people with self-assurance while still holding space for Rani’s changing beliefs about her culture, never taking her personal growth for granted.
The book’s laser-focused prose will resonate with any teen reader who has been harassed for their brown skin, struggled with first love or borne the pressure of family expectations. Rajurkar’s depiction of a young woman who attempts to shrink herself in order to satisfy the desires of others before recognizing her own inner strength is impossible to read without tightness in your chest and your heart in your throat.