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Born Confused Paperback – July 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In this enlightening first novel, Hidier offers readers an engrossing, personal account of the Indian-American experience through the eyes of an insightful narrator. Dimple Lala, a New Jersey teen interested in photography, has been confused about her identity since she entered the world the "wrong way," causing her mother "twelve treacherous hours of painful labor." Her fascination with photography reveals Dimple's keen sense of perception as well as her role as an observer rather than a participant. "Not quite Indian, and not quite American," Dimple unsuccessfully tries to blend in, riding on the coattails of her blue-eyed, blonde best friend, Gwyn. The author nimbly describes the shared outsider status that drew together the two, "the rich little girl who lived like an orphan and the brown little girl who existed as if she were still umbilically attached to her parents." During Dimple's 17th year, however, the tables suddenly turn when Dimple's parents introduce her to Karsh Kapoor, the son of their close friends from India. Through their meeting, the author reveals Dimple's mother's own secret creative aspirations (to become a dancer in her youth) as well as another first-generation teen's attempt to straddle both cultures. When Gwyn becomes infatuated with Karsh, Dimple helps Gwyn become a suitable girlfriend for him, even as she gradually comes to admire Karsh herself. In the process, the heroine embarks on a journey of self-discovery. On one level, the book explores the growing pains, rebellious phases, peer pressures and first love experienced universally by teens. On a deeper level, it celebrates a harmonious blending of cultures as it traces one adolescent's bumpy trek towards self-actualization. If a few subplots take the main action on a slight detour (e.g., Gwyn's relationship with her high school-cum-college boyfriend, etc.), the sparkling prose will carry readers along. The author seamlessly integrates descriptions of Indian food, dress and customs, often spiced with Dimple's sarcastic commentary. But even as Dimple distances herself from her family's traditions, her sense of respect and genuine affection for her accomplished parents (both doctors) are never far from the surface. The author poetically captures the essence of her characters and the richness of seemingly insignificant moments. Absorbing and intoxicating, this book is sure to leave a lasting impression. Ages 13-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up-Dimple Lala has spent her entire life trying to fit in. In India, she is too American, while in America she feels unable to conform, largely because of her parents' efforts to educate and involve her in Indian culture. By her 17th birthday, she feels incapable of making anyone happy and is hopelessly confused as to where she belongs. Her parents are unhappy about her obsession with photography and her dating activities, while Dimple herself feels that her best friend, Gwyn, is either ignoring her for a new boyfriend or trying to usurp Dimple's family. Her parents come up with what they think is a perfect solution-they introduce her to Karsh, a suitable boy. Dimple is turned off at the thought. Just when she is sure that things can't get more complicated, she meets him again, now involved in activities that would render him completely unsuitable to her parents but that interest her. By this time Gwyn decides that he seems like the perfect boyfriend for her and Dimple ends up with a number of tricky situations. This involving story, filled with detail about the protagonist's life and background, will reward its readers. The family background and richness in cultural information add a new level to the familiar girl-meets-boy story. Teens will be rooting for Dimple and her quest to find her own place in her family and country.
Betsy Fraser, Calgary Public Library, Canada
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Born Confused is a quintessential teen coming of age novel with boyfriend issues, best friend issues, drinking, drugs, and the whole bit. But at the same time, it’s so much more than that. This novel is about a search for identity.
It’s a walkabout as Dimple tries to navigate between her parents’ culture and her own mixed American and Indian (or South Asian as presented in the book) culture. Add that into the mix of high school trauma where she is one of two Indians, the other of whom is Sikh. Then toss in a best friend from childhood who is the high school dream with her blond hair and perfect form, and you get a very complicated, deep novel that explores culture clash on several levels between India and the US, high school and college, and even suburbia and New York City.
This book had me hooked from the beginning with the culture clash, but had someone described it to me, I might have turned away which would have been a real pity. The style is almost stream of consciousness, the comfort of the traditional narrative voice stripped away such that even dialogue is given another typesetting to remind us that everything is filtered through Dimple’s perspective. This is crucial later in the book where we (along with Dimple) realize that what she’s taken as a given is not, and her inability to see beyond that surface has consequences.
The filter effect is supported metaphorically throughout because she has a natural talent with photography. She’s more comfortably behind the camera lens, recording rather than experiencing her life. A creative pursuit is a wonderful way to expose the heart of a character, but in Born Confused, the camera acts more as a distancing effect for Dimple until she has a breakdown/breakthrough and goes out to discover her soul.
This book gave me everything I was hoping for in the book I reviewed last week and more. It looks into the heart of the teen experience, but more than that, it explores the added complication of first and second-generation immigrants. The novel does not hesitate to touch on the hard topics of losing a beloved family member (her grandfather dies before the book starts but it has a big impact) and the discovery that parents are people too with as much complexity and confusion.
I could talk about how lost Dimple is, about how she both wants to embrace and reject her heritage, about how her best friend appropriates all that is her in a weird situation that’s much more complicated than it seems, or any of a half a dozen events that bring us through the novel. Dimple is not all knowing. She does stupid things as often as brilliant, she’s the victim at times, and has to learn how to take control of her life. Always there is the camera and how her pictures act as a metaphor for her understanding, moving from black and white to color to comprehension.
As I said in the beginning, this is the quintessential teen novel. At the same time, it has broader implications regarding self-identification, acceptance of others, and so many other important aspects of growth that people struggle with at any age. It’s a powerful read, and well worth it, no matter what your age.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
<blockquote>Tanuja Desai Hidier's fantastically acclaimed cross-cultural debut comes to PUSH!
Dimple Lala doesn't know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she's spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a "suitable boy." Of course it doesn't go well -- until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America.</blockquote>
What I like About This Story:
This is a lovely story about figuring out who you are, or at least the first solid steps, since we are continually evolving throughout our lives. Dimple's best friend is her opposite. Gwyn is tall, thin, with blond hair and blue eyes. She is the American ideal. And to top it off she has the personality to match, outgoing, bubbly, open, engaging, effervescent. In short Dimple thinks Gwyn is incandescent, the bees-knees, the sunshine under which she flourishes. Dimple considers herself to be a wallflower, as she never seems to know what to say, or what to wear for that matter. It doesn't help her already stunted self-esteem that she has womanly curves. Not slightly curves, but all-out hourglass curves. And when she looks around she sees white girls that are tall and thin, thin, thin. So she is constantly comparing herself to Gwyn and others like her and coming up short, so to speak. She doesn't feel like an American, but she doesn't feel like an Indian either, so she feels as if there is no place she fits.
Dimple is sweet and wholesome. Her character is so naive that it's to the point of almost being too over the top. But she has a good heart. Once her blinders start coming off she becomes an even more enjoyable character. It takes her looking outside her own messy feelings to get the beginning of a grasp on the similarities between all people, regardless of ethnicity, body type, skin/hair/eye color - underneath we all have a heart, a pair of lungs, muscles, teeth, bones, etc. Even Dimple's cousin and parents show insecurities that sail right over her oblivious head.
On the surface Gwyn is a good foil for Dimple, demonstrating that no matter what your exterior looks like you can still feel you are never _fill in the blank_ enough. Yet each girl is so wrapped up in their own internal insecurities they are blind to the fact that everyone else is going through the same thing at some level. Neither girl recognizes that they are envious of one another. Eventually things come to a head and the two girls finally let out some of their frustration, anger, and accumulated slights that they attribute to the other. This serves to illustrate how bad it is to keep your feelings bottled up, yet it also shows that you will survive airing things out with the party causing them, even if it means risking permanent damage to the relationship.
Karsh, Kavita, and Zara Thustra (who can resist a character named after part of the title of a Friedrich Neitzchie book?), are all great characters. Each help Dimple find herself in one manner or another. And each is also flawed to some degree, some more than others.
A series of events happen that make Dimple finally look around, really pay attention to the world and people in her sphere. This in turn leads to a cascade of mini-epiphanies almost daily, and with each one another piece of her life falls into a more comfortable relationship with the rest of her. Suddenly she discovers connections where she'd never before noticed them, opening up her eyes to her own personal growth as well as the growth of those around her. Growth and changes that are not solely limited to her age group either.
What Didn't Work For Me:
While I loved Dimple's devotion to Gwyn, I felt that the relationship was very unbalanced. It frequently felt as if Gwyn was simply taking advantage of Dimple - "borrowing" and of her clothes that she liked, doing the same with Dimple's jewelry, even going so far as to try to appropriate her very culture and 'be more Indian.' It often seemed that is was all about Gwyn, and she only contacted Dimple when she needed something. Though this behavior is explained, somewhat, that still didn't seem to justify her treatment of such a loyal friend.
Conversely I wanted Dimple to wake up and smell the coffee. It astounded me how she let Gwyn walk all over her. If she did get frustrated she stuffed it down deep and went right back to basking in the glow that was Gwyn. Dimple was clearly partly to blame for Gwyn's treatment of her.
Although Karsh was wonderful I was a wee bit disappointed that the story was set up so that Dimple's happiness hinged on "getting her man." That's not to say she didn't grow by leaps and bounds in other ways, but giving another person so much power over her happiness seemed to defeat the purpose.
My final pet peeve was two-fold: the frequent use of non-English words that were not explained or made clear by their context, and the tremendous amount of typos. One can only hope the typos are restricted to the ebook and not the print version. Plus, this is an advance release copy, so hopefully all the typographical errors will be cleaned up before the release of the final product.
A wonderful, meaningful story about coming to terms with growing up. The fact that the lessons weren't restricted to just one age group or ethnicity was a very nice bonus, as it helped demonstrate that we all struggle with many of the same
issues. They may not be exactly the same, but odds of finding someone who isn't going through the same thing, or went through it, are slim to none. There are some sections where Ms. Tanuja Desai Hidier crafted some remarkable phrases, creating absolutely vivid images that made the entire book come to life. One such example is as follows -
<blockquote>History wasn't that easy a thing to learn, seemed to be what I was learning. It wasn't a static story about dead people. It was a revolving door fraught with ghosts still straining to tell their version and turn your head, multifaceted and blinding as a cut diamond.</blockquote>
All in all I found this to be a great teaching book, without feeling like you are being preached to or deliberately taught any lessons. I would certainly recommend this book for high school libraries (not middle school due to some discussions about sex, as well as underage drinking and one incident of drug use).
I think one of the reasons I connected so well with Dimple was because of her love of photography. I’m a photographer by trade, but even I was blown away by Dimple’s passion for photography and how it guided so much in her life. The reader really gets to see the real Dimple when she is behind her lens.
While the book is “aimed” at YA readers (the story takes place during the summer between Dimple’s junior and senior years of high school), the story, writing, and themes are complex enough that much more mature readers will be captivated. The cast of characters (Dimple, Gwen, Karsh, Kavita) are engaging and fascinating.
Every time I finish Born Confused, I have a great desire to pick up my camera, head to New York and find a South Asian club. It leaves me curious about other cultures, and wishing I had a bit more of one myself. The story is comforting and thought provoking at the same time, and is one of my very favorite “coming of age” novels.
Originally published in 2002, Born Confused is being reprinted and has a new cover! The new edition will be released in April 2014. I’m so excited to get another copy to replace my worn out copy!