American Betiya is, at times, a difficult read about the hazards of interracial dating, love, and racism. The lines between appropriation and appreciation. As the world wakes up to nuances, American Betiya is an emotional and thoughtful book about tackling these topics as a teen. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts!
Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.
They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.
Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: drug use, suicide mention (in the past for a side character), racism
American Betiya is a book I think more POC teens should read. Especially as we are cultivating a culture which talks more openly about cultural appropriation and racist comments. There are the hate crimes, the blatant racism, and the discrimination. But it’s also in the little comments over dinners, nicknames, and emotional manipulation. At times, American Betiya was difficult to read, because as readers we can, hopefully, see the red flags. But as a woman of color, I can see their echoes in my life. The comments I brushed off, the phrases I heard in the corner of rooms, and the unspoken silences.
I wish that teen me had read this book. Knew not to laugh away those moments that made me uncomfortable. To recognize the comments for what they were. And what happens to Rani is worse than I ever experienced. American Betiya is about the lines that are so easily laughed off, but are ignorant and become insidious. A line between our attractions and fetishizing them. It’s also a story about love, about toxic relationships, and the need for self-independence.
Rani’s Journey of Self-Discovery
Only we can know the truths in our heart. The ways we are pushed towards futures, the laden guilt in our gut, and the internal struggles that keep us awake at night. Our lives live within the context of what brought us here. Our parent’s dreams, their journeys, and sacrifices. At the same point, Rani has to figure out what she truly wants. What pieces of herself she wants to pay homage to, what traditions to uphold. What feels right for her.
Some parts of American Betiya were difficult to read. Moments screaming against the page, knowing we’d make the same mistakes. That sometimes falling in love can feel like losing yourself. How the moments that don’t sit well with us sometimes have to accumulate like stones before an avalanche. Love doesn’t entail perfection. We love flawed humans who make mistakes. But love isn’t supposed to put us in danger or hurt us. It shouldn’t feel like someone completes us. Love should exist between two wholes.