Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chapter Book Review - Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee

"I don't want to be ethnic." Maya Mukherjee is tired of feeling like she's in between. When she and her parents are with other Indian families, Maya's on the outside -- she doesn't speak Bengali, she doesn't wear a sari -- not Indian enough. When she's at school, she's the only brown kid, noticeable for the rice and dahl in her lunchbox and the customs everyone assumes she follows. All Maya wants is to blend in, and to have Jamie Klassen finally notice her.

Then Maya's cousin Pinky arrives from India, and more than ever all eyes are on Maya's family. Exotic Pinky, with her Kathak dancing, her perfume and kohl, captures the attention and the admiration of even Maya's closest friends. Even Jamie, who had been slowly beginning to notice Maya, seems to have fallen under Pinky's spell. So Maya makes a little plea to the gold Ganesh statue Pinky has broug
ht with her. Just a small request, Maya thinks, from the god who "removes obstacles to truth". Suddenly, though, it seems like everything has turned upside down -- and Maya finds herself wishing for changes she never thought she'd be seeking out.

Anjali Banerjee's Maya Running turned out to be much different from what I thought initially, with an element of mysticism that I absolutely didn't see coming. Maya's relationship with Pinky is the turning point of the book, and though she is the one who initially wanted Pinky to come, after Pinky's arrival Maya is more of an outsider than ever. That things don't turn out how she planned is a big stumbling point for Maya, and feeds into the central conflict of a character who is at war within herself. I appreciate especially that Maya is authentic and her struggles are believable, which makes her someone readers can understand and will root for.

As Maya deals with the unexpected feelings that her plea to Ganesh has brought about, she gradually begins to understand the value of not being just like everyone else. Although I felt that Banerjee rushes the resolution a bit -- I would have liked to see Maya resolve her issues in a more realistic fashion -- she still demonstrates that Maya is able to come to terms with her place in society and become more comfortable with who she is.Maya's conflicts are pretty familiar for her age range, and even kids who don't feel singled out for their skin color can relate to her seemingly ever-present visibility. Didn't we all go through a similar thing at this age, where different is bad and all we want to do is blend in? I know this is something we'll deal with as Sprout gets older, particularly if we stay in an area that is predominately white. Hopefully we'll be able to guide him through it, to help him celebrate the uniqueness that is his heritage and to be proud, not ashamed. Books like this, we hope, will help affirm and support him in the process.

Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee, published by Random House
Ages 8-12
Source: Library
Sample quote: "There are no black people in our town, so I guess I'm the next best target. When I die, I'll become an exhibit at the local museum. Mayasri Mukherjee, born in India to a Bengali father and an Anglo-Indian mother. Nobody knew exactly how to classify Maya, but we do know this: she was all mixed up. I am Nowhere Girl in my Nowhere Land, between Canada and India."

No comments: