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On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  442 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
A memoir of a young woman, the product of a strict upbringing by conservative Indian parents, who decides to go on a Ram-Singha, her Indian version of the rumspringa, and learns how to dance, swim, drive, travel, and play in order to be happy.

Rupinder Gill was raised under the strict rules of her parents' Indian upbringing. While her friends were practicing their pliés, ha
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Riverhead Books (first published March 22nd 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Sonia K
Aug 11, 2012 Sonia K rated it did not like it
Being of multi-cultural background myself, I had high hopes for this book. At some point it struck me that this book, at its existential core, is a physical proof of the author's desire to fit in, not a resolution of the need.

The book is a thinly disgused exploitation of 'otherness' (hey, I might look different but yet we are all the same inside!). It does not go much deeper than following the author as she checks off her bucket-list of cliche American activities which she believes will somehow
Jun 20, 2012 Nan rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir-bio
This memoir starts off with an interesting premise: a thirty year old Indian-Canadian resolves to give herself all the experiences her strict parents denied her as a child. The author sets about taking swimming lessons, dancing lessons, having sleepovers, looking into dog ownership, and planning a trip to Disney World. Although the book is meant to be humorous, she tries way too hard to cram in mountains of late 80s/early 90s pop culture references. All this gets a little tiresome. If the author ...more
Sep 06, 2012 Amanda rated it liked it
Eh. I was disappointed in this one. I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately about people doing crazy things to find themselves or just to have a book topic (The guy who followed the bible ... Wild by Cheryl Strayed..) This one just felt forced. I didn't feel like there was enough background to make me feel invested in the writer before she started on her big adventure. I also felt like it wasn't really on topic with growing up Indian ... she just grew up with strict parents. And the writing ...more
Apr 08, 2012 Joanna rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Let me start by repeating what everyone else has already said: the book is about the author’s New Year’s resolution to make up for her lost childhood. Just the fact that she actually sticks to it and does not abandon it after the very first week should qualify the book as science fiction, because isn’t abandonment a default, customary outcome for a New Year’s resolution?

The Good: 1. The book is indeed laugh out loud funny, in a Tina Fay-esque way. 2. She had a resolution and followed thr
Jul 16, 2012 Sarah rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book had so much potential! Like many first-generation immigrants, Gill wants a modern childhood with summer camp and music lessons, activities deemed luxurious by her Indian parents who recall their own toys made out of mud. As a child, Gill is embarrassed by her parents and their strict rules and, now that she's a adult, Gill seeks to reclaim her lost childhood by doing all the things she was denied - learning to swim and tap dance, having sleepovers, visiting Disney World. The problem is ...more
Aug 14, 2014 Runa rated it it was amazing
Admittedly, I don't read very many autobiographies, but of the ones I've read, this one easily hit home the strongest. As a child of a South Asian immigrant, oh boy do I GET this book. I loved it, I related to the vast majority of the story, from missing out on a childhood to wishing you could have that later in life, to trying to balance two cultures, oh my goodness, I Get it. What a fantastic (and funny!) book. It's really nice to be able to read about the experiences of someone like me in a ...more
Renee Turner
Jan 19, 2013 Renee Turner rated it liked it
This kept being recommended to me and I really wanted to love it but... it doesn't really go anywhere. I was torn between sympathising with her and thinking she was a spoilt brat in turn, and she didn't really, in my opinion, complete many 'childhood' activities. It seemed to be a lot of talk, not enough action. Not the worst memoir, but definitely not the best.
Shiva Rai
Apr 15, 2011 Shiva Rai rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was hilarious! it's 'eat, pray, love' meets 'my big fat greek wedding'. I love the author's sense of humor, and I think a lot of kids of immigrants (or anyone who felt different as a kid) will really relate to this story. Her decision to go after childhood goals (by ditching a job) was brave.
Aug 01, 2011 Shami rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rupinder Gill is a very funny writer. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading and actually laughed out loud several times. While all first generation ethnics have a slightly different experience, she has articulated a number of our truths as well as our parents' truths.
Literary  Chanteuse
Jan 03, 2015 Literary Chanteuse rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian-authors
3.5 stars
Jun 26, 2011 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is taken from my interview with the author originally published here:

Indo-Canadian humorist writer Rupinder Gill's debut book, On the Outside Looking Indian, is a light-hearted and often self-deprecating memoir that weaves anecdotes of her unique childhood experiences into her present-day efforts to recreate a more conventional adolescence.

Gill grew up in a predominately white area in Kitchener, Ontario, 15 minutes away from Toronto. “It shaped my experiences be
I won this ARC in a Goodreads contest; apparently winners are chosen based on "randomness, site activity, genre of books on your shelves, current phase of the moon, and more," so I was interested to see if they had correctly chosen me as a target audience for this book. In this memoir, Rupinder, a thirty-year-old Indian-Canadian woman, decides to revisit her childhood by attempting to do some of the things that she had wanted to do, but was forbidden by her strict and thrifty parents. She ...more
Viviane Crystal
Jun 11, 2012 Viviane Crystal rated it really liked it
Welcome to the world of an Indian-American family whose values center on hard work, housekeeping at home and in one's career job after childhood. It's a world where parents are selfless and totally dedicated to children but it's a very narrow world. Rupinder humorously describes her world which sounds like a litany of "what i want" followed by multiple negative responses. So no movies, no sleep-overs, no mall trips, no long empty telephone conversations, etc., etc. But Rupinder has a novel point ...more
As a white, middle class Canadian, with many privileges, I don't "own" the experiences of children of immigrants. But I have always felt a bond with Indo-Canadian kids, because their home culture is so severe compared to their public school classmates'. My parents were very strict, out of sync with the other families in the neighbourhood, and even stricter than their own parents, and my aunts and uncles. I always felt I had to live up to standards that other kids my age did not, or face my ...more
Dec 27, 2012 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
If I could, I would rate this book 2.5 stars.

A few of my friends marked this book as "to read" on Goodreads, and so I decided to check it out from the library this summer. I loved the premise of this book. Gill, a young Indian woman feeling deprived of having a North American childhood while growing up in Canada, decides to spend time in her early 20s doing all of the things typical North American kids do growing up.

I was hoping that this book would be a reflective comparison of the struggles of
I really wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I had just finished Gurjinder Basra's _Everything Was Good Bye_ that, while melodramatic, showed great potential writing chops for future books.

As a person, I quite liked the main character, Rupinder. Heck, I know many, many Rupinders where I live...Sikh women living in patriarchal cultural systems who end up either succumbing to the norms and being married off, young, or miserable and broken after having fled their communities to 'find
May 31, 2011 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I started out thinking this book was okay, but by the ending, I really liked it. THe author is a 30 year old Sikh woman who grew up fairly sheltered. She was one of 5 children and her parents were new immigrants. She was not allowed to socialize outside of school, and didn't take lessons. She watched a lot of television as a child and thought she was missing out on a normal childhood.

At the age of 30, she decides to have some of the experiences that she missed as a child. This starts by signing
Fun read about a late-bloomer that decides to experience all of the things she missed out in childhood (driving, learning how to swim, getting a dog, going to Disney World, etc.). Cleverly written and ridden with pop-culture references. (Gill was "raised by TV" much like Community's Abed Nadir.) Ah, our generation.

This is a "coming-of-age" story that I feel a lot of twentysomethings can relate to. Gill grapples with "Where is my life heading?" and is often over-consumed with her own introspecti
Jun 28, 2012 Robbin rated it it was amazing
As the child of Indian immigrants, Rupinder is now an adult who yearns for the childhood she never had due to a strict upbringing that prohibited her from living the "North American childhood dream." While the author sprinkles hilarious catch-phrases and chapter titles and scenarios throughout her book, sadness is the largest underlying feeling. While reaching the end of the book, I was angered and saddened that Rupinder failed to acknowledge her Indian culture as something old-fashioned, silly ...more
Lalita Manku
Sep 16, 2016 Lalita Manku rated it it was amazing
U of Guelph library
Aug 24, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Think of "Eat,Pray,Love" merged with "Joy Luck Club" but a far more palatable and meaningful version of the former and funnier and entertaining than the latter.

Growing up in a small, almost all Caucasian town, Rupinder Gill and her 4 Punjabi sisters are not permitted to go to camp, sleepovers, summer retreats or parties of any kind. Escape from this strict upbringing comes in the form of watching immense amounts of TV, cleaning, greasy comfort food and creating their own version of tennis on th
Really a 3.5 star book.

This book wasn't what I expected it to be, but I still enjoyed it. There wasn't as much discussion of her growing up and/or the immigrant experience as I expected. She dealt with that more in broad strokes.

It was an enjoyable book, however, about her adult exploration of the (supposedly) classic childhood experiences. I was a little confused how she moved to America with no mention of having to get visas (etc.) which even as a Canadian is necessary. Perhaps she felt the
I was impatient with this one at the start of the book. It was mostly the author complaining about this and that in her childhood. However, if you are patient and hold on and keep reading it gets good. The first part is there to provide context and contrast for the rest of the book. Ms. Gill shows how she started out in a family that, wishing to love and protect, and keep her (and her sisters) safe, ended up also suffocating her and her development as a human being. The next part of the book is ...more
Feb 23, 2013 Alicia rated it really liked it
So at the beginning of this book, the author dedicates it to her family. And she says something like "Thank you for letting me tell my story, for in it, I told your story as well." And I really liked that, because even at the end, after we read all about the favoritism, and the way her parents wouldn't let her do anything, she clearly loves her family, and she is thankful for many of the things they gave her.

And isn't that always the way? Don't we always appreciate our family when we spend any t
Aban (Aby)
The author, an East Indian, looks back on her childhood in Canada where, apart from school, she spent most of her time watching television with her siblings. She was not allowed to play with friends, participate in any extra curricular activities, go to camp, or enjoy any of the activities of her white friends. At the age of thirty, she decided to fulfill the dreams of her childhood and, in doing so, to gain control of her life. One has to admire Rupinder Gill. It takes courage to give up a job, ...more
May 11, 2013 Angela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was really funny and very inspiring as well. Reading it has inspired me to get out of my own comfort zone a bit and cross some things off my list! I live in Toronto and part of my motivation for reading this book was to get some sort of insight as to why many of the Indian and Pakistani children at my son's school don't seem to do playdates or birthday parties (or swimming lessons!), and I'm still not sure I get it and that I am just not going to get it because it is a cultural ...more
Jun 18, 2012 Amina rated it really liked it
Jeez. Being a brown kid growing up in the West is tough stuff. In addition to navigating two cultures, you have to maneuver your way around such obstacles as unmitigated follicular activity and an unjustifiably pathetic social life. Sure, growing up different is difficult but looking back on that time as an adult and laughing isn’t–nor should it be.

In “On the Outside Looking Indian” Indian-Canadian writer Rupinder Gill relates the tale of her third-life crisis, without going so far as to call it
An interesting look into an immigrant family and the ways in which the culture of the 'motherland' influences and affects the new generation. Rupinder's parents made a lot of sacrifices to provide opportunities for many family members to come over to Canada from India. While they were not strict about following any religious practices, they did not socialize or assimilate into their new Canadian community, and they parented with the idea that it was easier to just say 'no'. This leaves Rupinder ...more
Apr 18, 2014 Katherine rated it it was ok
I think this could have been a good book with some major editing, but as it is, it struck me more as a series of blog posts than one cohesive unit. Throughout the book, Gill pulls off one hat and puts on another (now I'm being funny, now I'm being inspirational, now I'm being touching) but each voice lacks depth. The situations (e.g, having a slumber party as an adult) didn't really provide enough hilarity or tension to be interesting on their own - the risks she takes all come with a huge ...more
Aug 13, 2013 Kirsten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, india, canada, humour, ebook
Another fun vacation read. I'm giving generous ratings to everything I read while on holidays. I usually read so disjointedly and slowly lately that it was good to discover that when the circumstances are right I can still immerse myself in books and devour them. This is an entertaining Canadian memoir, somewhat thematically similar to Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side but I found this author's perspective more sympathetic and her ...more
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After graduating high school as the class valedictorian,
Rupinder studied Arts at the University of Toronto then moved back into her parents’ basement for a year. Her first book, On The Outside Looking Indian, was released in March 2011 and was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for humour writing. She has also written for The National Post, McSweeneys, CBC Radio and This Hour Has 2
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