Getting in touch with culture: Shine, Coconut Moon

2 Mar

*Sorry, I have to comment on how awesome it is, that her body hair was not airbrushed out of this book cover.

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

Released: June 2010

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

Level: Teen/Ages 13-up

17-year old Samar “Sammy” Ahluwalia doesn’t really know a whole lot about her Punjabi heritage. Raised by her single mother, Sharanjit in New Jersey, Sammy’s had a fairly Americanized upbringing. Between school, hanging out with bestie Molly, or sharing tender moments with Mike, her boyfriend,  Sammy hasn’t really had the time to get in touch with her culture. And it’s not like Mom has been especially encouraging, either – Sharanjit has been estranged from her parents since her daughter was a baby. In fact, Sammy has never even met her grandparents. But one day, a stranger in a turban shows up at Sammy’s door, and her life dramatically changes. Uncle Sandeep desperately wants to know his niece, and teach her about Punjabi and Sikh traditions. But Sharanjit, who left home years ago to get away from her parents’ stifling restrictions, wants no part of it for Sammy.

In Meminger’s novel, the term “coconut” is a casually tossed pejorative (from a Punjabi classmate who assumes Sammy isn’t Indian), describing someone who is “brown on the outside, white on the inside.” With her Indianness called into question, Sammy becomes especially determined to get in touch with her Sikh and Punjabi heritage. As she gets closer to discovering herself, Sammy begins distancing herself from Mike, who can’t fathom the importance of his girlfriend’s personal journey. Mike’s lack of sympathy and his racist attitude eventually get him kicked to the curb. Even Molly doesn’t get it at first, but thankfully (because I didn’t want the bestie to go away!) she rallies around her friend. And when Sammy finally meets her Nani and Nana (grandmother and grandfather), you’ll definitely want to have some tissues on hand.

Shine, Coconut Moon is an incisive look at how distorted perceptions of race, ethnicity, and religion profoundly impacted treatment of Middle-Eastern and South Asian Americans following the tragic events of 9/11. Reading about Uncle Sandeep’s car being bombarded with garbage from racists yelling, “Go back home, Osama!” set my heart racing. I was in junior high school in the early ’90s, during the Persian Gulf War, and I vividly recall being told “Go back to Iraq!” Perhaps the most hurtful thing I took away from those encounters was a feeling of Otherness–like, I wasn’t really an American at all (despite immigrating to the States as a 1.5 year old). Meminger’s book really hit home for me, and was an emotional read. I’ve also had my Indianness called into question many times – when I took a course at Cal on Hindu Mythology (totes aced it by the way), I remember another student telling me (after hearing that I didn’t speak any languages other than English), “What kind of Indian are you?” I was stunned, but I definitely didn’t let it get me down. Like Sammy,  I realized it’s a personal journey, and today, I’m comfortable in my skin.

Despite having a South Asian protagonist, I think Shine, Coconut Moon will appeal to anyone who has felt like an outsider and/or is trying to bridge two cultures.  Highly recommended.

Copy checked out from my library.


One Response to “Getting in touch with culture: Shine, Coconut Moon”

  1. arepg March 3, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    Sounds great—thanks for the recommendation!

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