So.........it's been a long time coming. This book came in the mail for me a few days before it was released to bookstores, HARDCOVER, baby. That was January. And I have read the book at least twice now, so I had better come up with why.
1. It has a preview video! (Maybe you knew books had "trailers" but this was my first one.)
2. The cover is beautiful. It is bright and colorful. (As I look at my cover, I see that mine is well loved, it has been in my purse and is quite scuffed.)
3. I've been learning more about India, and how culture and status and caste really do affect life there, and this was another view into that world where it's not so easy. This is not the book where the boy who wants to play cricket professionally gets that dream. This is not even Cinderella getting her prince. Which broke my heart. But the reality of that culture means that stories are told differently. So on my initial read, I thought, blech! It didn't end the way I wanted it to. But here it was, this free book from a writer I respect and a person I'm growing to love. This seems to be the year of India, what with Slumdog Millionaire winning the Oscar for Best Picture, etc. etc.
4. Secrets: this book is full of secrets. And I love how the book is not JUST about Asha's secrets. EVERYBODY in this book has a secret (even Grandmother). And they don't all get told. But you gotta love a book that weaves a secret and a theme throughout. If I told you all the secrets, they wouldn't be a secret, now would they? You gotta read it! Go!
5. "The Jailer" is what Asha and Reet (the sisters) call their mom's depression. How can I relate. It is like being jailed, when depression comes and imprisons you. What a wonderful descriptor.
6. The kind of books I'm loving right now: the protagonist does not get married or get a man by the end. If she's married, she stays married. If she's single, she stays single. Well, in this book, our protagonist's dream is to be a psychologist, and by the end of the book, it looks like that dream may come true.
7. This book helped me to change how I look at "happily ever after." As a girl, well, I am so Cinderella-prone. This book turned that on end. There was nothing Cinderella about this book except for the hopes. But maybe that was the point. An undercurrent in the book was that it took place in the 70s, and Asha keeps thinking "What would those protesting women who burn their bras in America say about THAT, I wonder?"(30) Asha herself is trying to work through how much she loves fairy tales. So this book is an anti-fairy tale...sort of something that would come out of the 70s, sort of a literary response to Free to Be You and Me. This is a book full of female power, in a patriarchial society. Women helping women. It's subtle, but once you unravel it the thread, you find it everywhere in this book.
8. This passage:
In America, where women were burning bras and fighting for equal rights, they didn't need curves to snare a husband. Sixteen-year-old American girls could play sports, drive cars, win scholarships, keep studying, even think about staying unmarried if they wanted.
Asha Gupta, tennis champion.
Asha Gupta, psychologist.
Asha Gupta, forever. (18)
(That last bit took a bit to sink in. For those of you who know me in real life *IRL* my last name is unusual and long. Sometimes I can't wait to get rid of it, and other times, I think of the loss.)
Of course, this is also a fairy tale. "In America, everything is beautiful and women can do what they want." And so the book plays its own game.
9. So what is the book about? Two sisters, who must leave their home in Delhi just as their father, an engineer, must go to New York to look for work. The year? 1974, right after there have been riots and few Indian jobs for engineers. Their mother is prone to depression and off the girls go to live with their father's family in Calcutta until he sends for them. Add the fact that her father's family didn't initially want their university-educated son to marry Reet and Asha's village-born mother, and we already have uncomfortable family dynamics before we discover that the girls won't be able to go to school.
10. This book has great nicknames. I cannot keep up with Russian novels with their five names for each character. But Mitali does a great job at explaining each nickname, and they all suit. It adds to the flavor of the book.
So...I hope I haven't spoiled the plot and I hope you go run and get a copy of this book, Secret Keeper, by Mitali Perkins.
17 hours ago