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Volume VIII Number 1 . . . . September 7, 2001
Mina appears to have no problems with being a "visible minority" or with eating a mostly Indian and mostly vegetarian diet (although she does love it when her mother makes her special spaghetti sauce!), and she definitely loves the Indian spring festival of Holi, along with the enormous party her family always throws. Her classmates love the party too and are always extra nice to her as its date approaches, unnecessarily since she always invites all of them.
This year, however, things are a bit different. Mina's grandfather, Nanaji, has come from India to live with them in Vancouver, and Mina finds herself embarrassed by his foreignness, his accent, his attitudes to her leisure activities. Watching TV, in his eyes, is definitely less worthy than playing math games! Therefore, when Mina hears a new classmate making fun of her grandfather's accent and the philosophical tenor of a conversation overheard at their school's open house, Mina feels she must defend him more vigorously than the occasion actually required. When her mother insists that Ashley, the offending classmate, must not be excluded from the Holi party, Mina concocts a substitute for the washable solutions usually sprayed at others in fun at the party---she mixes a bottle full of different flavours of Kool-Aid guaranteed to dye Ashley's long blond hair temporarily a hideous shade of brown. Nanaji, however, is not only a philosopher; he is a parent, and nobody's fool. He suspects a plot, manages to deflect the coloured shower, and then gently makes Mina confront her own feelings which have led her to "protest too much" over Ashley's bad manners. In the process, he reestablishes the spirit of reconciliation that is an essential party to the Holi festival. At the end of the book, Mina realizes that "she's not my type, and we're never going to be friends, but...", thus taking an essential step along the path of emotional growth.
Mina is at that difficult age when she wants to be both grown up and independent; yet she longs for the safety and security of her not-so-distant childhood when Nanaji was perfect in every way. The author has captured beautifully the ambivalence of Mina's feelings as she begins to see her grandfather through the eyes of others. This is a necessary stage in the growing-up process, one that will strike a chord with readers, adolescent or older. Mina's agonizing as she prepares to punish Ashley for saying aloud some of her own secret thoughts is perhaps a bit overdone, but, on the whole, this is a book that is interesting for its insightful story line and also for its unusual background. Definitely a recommended read.
Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB.
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