I've read three pretty great books lately, all about learning to love one's self, one's heritage, and one's physical features. Very important topics in the world today, facing teen girls. All too often you hear a girl saying how she doesn't like the way she looks or feels like her background hurts rather than helps her social reputation. In those instances, I definitely recommend one (or all) of these titles.
The first is a book I can now say I'm pretty much in love with. Shine, Coconut Moon is written by Neesha Meminger and focuses on Samar (or Sam), a typical teenage girl that just happens to have an Indian background. Her mother has not raised her to be religious, as she ran away from her ultra-strict family when she was younger. Sam doesn't really know anything about her heritage or culture. When she's called a "coconut" by a fellow Indian classmate, she doesn't even know what that means. Brown on the outside, but white on the inside, Sam is totally confused about who she is.
When estranged Uncle Sandeep arrives on their doorstep, at first Sam is completely taken aback, not sure what to make of him or why he is there. As she gets to know him, she learns what a wonderful person he is and slowly begins to gain interest in her Indian heritage, allowing her Uncle to teach her about it and help her to properly blend her Indian culture with her American culture. She also has started to understand what true prejudice is all about, as the story takes place right after the September 11th attacks and Uncle Sandeep is exactly what people seem to believe a terrorist looks like.
Filled with true emotion and very believable characters, I really really really hope you all go out and read this book. The plot is current and realistic and Samar is a beautiful, hope-filled character. I loved it! I think it belongs on all library shelves and is very deserving of being a gift to a teen girl.
Shine, Coconut Moon
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Ten Things I Hate About Me, written by Randa Abdel-Fattah, is another book about the clash of cultures and not embracing one's heritage. Jamilah (or Jamie as she calls herself) is of Lebanese-Muslim background, living with a very strict father in Australia. None of her school friends know about her background, as most of them seem to believe that anyone with dark skin and a Muslim faith are terrorists. She just doesn't trust any of them to not disown her as a friend, so Jamie hides her cultural qualities by wearing blue colored contacts and dying her hair blonde, as well as laughing along with all the race driven jokes some of her classmates make.
When Jamie meets a friend online and begins revealing bits of herself to him, she starts to realize that maybe being completely Australian, never embracing her Lebanese culture, is not all it's cracked up to be. She begins to become offended by the typical jokes and comments made, and after some real self-searching, becomes proud of her heritage, rather than embarrassed by it. Learning about herself and her father along the way.
Though I didn't quite enjoy this book as much as Abdel-Fattah's first (Does My Head Look Big in This?), Ten Things I Hate About Me is still a good representation of embracing one's self. Jamilah is a bit flat in the beginning, but once the online conversations began, I liked her a lot more and believed what the author was trying to make her out to be.
This one is a good companion to Shine, Coconut Moon and nice for collections that have the author's first title. A good choice for a teen girl in need of some positivity about herself!
Ten Things I Hate About Me
Finally, moving onto self esteem in terms of physicality, we have My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter. Hilarious is the first term to come to mind when I think of this book, as well as dosed with a positive message.
In the "Summer of Passion," Jory Michaels is determined to accomplish 2 things. Find a boyfriend (preferably popular guy Tyler, who her best friend appears to have an interest in as well) and earn money for the ever-important nose job. She gets a job as a delivery girl for a local bakery to pay to change her huge nose and starts having some real love interests. The summer appears to be off to a great (and very humorous) start, but of course, what would a book be without some twists and turns?
Jory is really on a path of self-discovery, slowly learning about what is truly important in life. Those things are not always boys and appearances, but as any teen would be, she is very slow to realize that. Filled with some pretty great messages and lots of hilarious circumstances, this was an enjoyable read.
I did find that the book was a bit too long for my liking. I think it took longer than necessary to get to the point of the story...maybe losing about 50 pages would be good. I also feel the sexuality and drinking was a bit over the top too...not necessarily needed to make the point, but not so heavy that I wouldn't want teens to read it. Overall the good definitely outweighs the negatives and the message is great. A story that will definitely appeal to teen girls!
My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters
To learn more about any of these titles or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon.