Book Review: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman

Book: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman

Published October 2013 by Harry N Abrams|256 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

I liked this one!  For me, it’s one of those books that’s hovering between middle grade and YA- there is something about it that is a little bit more YA, but I could easily see it as an older middle grade book.

I thought Tara was interesting, and I liked seeing her balance both her Indian and her Jewish identities.  There were a couple of things that really stood out to me.  One was a comment from one of her classmates about how she’s not really Jewish because her mom converted to Judaism, and the other was someone assuming she was Muslim because she was from India.  She was easy to relate to, and I really liked her relationships with both her family and her friends.

Adult me’s reaction is that if someone says they’re Jewish, then they’re Jewish…and I’m pretty sure teenage me would felt the same way.  But I also grew up Catholic, and my knowledge of other religions is pretty limited, so maybe I’m missing something here.  I just liked seeing her struggle with her identity, and how she struggled with her faith.  She is full of questions, and for some reason, I really liked that about her.

I did like Sheila and I really, one of the other characters in the book.  It seems like she gets whatever she wants, but she also has some issues she needs to work on.  I felt a little bad for her, but I also wish we saw more of her backstory, because I am curious about why she did some of the things she did.

Something else I wish we saw was more of her mom’s experience as an immigrant.  Tara and her mom are very different, and her mom seems wary of Tara connecting with her Indian culture.  There does seem to be a little bit of a disconnect at times, but they are also very different.  Still, at least a little about her experience immigrating to the US would have been nice, and I think it would have added something different to her relationship with Tara.  But she was still an interesting character.

I also liked the glossary at the end, which was helpful because there were a lot of phrases and words I wasn’t familiar with.  It was nice to actually see what they meant, instead of forgetting to google it later, or trying to figure out what it meant.  I like it when books include a glossary, and that Freedman recognized that not everyone is going to be familiar with some of the phrases we see throughout the book.

3 stars.  I liked it, and I especially liked Tara.  But while I liked it, I didn’t love it.  I thought a couple of things could have used some more backstory, but overall, I’d still recommend it.

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