Fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson will identify with this powerful story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship.
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.
Anuradha D. Rajurkar is the award-winning author of AMERICAN BETIYA (Knopf), a 2022 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and a Bank Street Best Book of 2022.
Holding two degrees from Northwestern University, Anuradha spends her free time hiking the shores of Lake Michigan, obsessing over her garden, and watching horror flicks with her sons. A lazy knitter, passionate reader, and color-enthusiast, Anuradha lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband and two sons. Her upcoming book is a young adult gothic thriller entitled TEMPORARY BODIES (Knopf, 2024).
Breathtaking , unique, such a thrilling pleasure to read this beauty! I love to get lost in those books centered around multicultural interests and thankfully ownvoices give us a great chance to meet with powerful, creative indie authors who introduce us different approaches opening into vivid, original lives, traditions, cultures.
Please don’t hesitate to add this book on your very special tbr but not just add, please schedule a special reading time and dive into it blind!
I truly enjoy Rani Kellar’s story who is Indian American high school girl, struggling between satisfying her family’s expectations by studying science, being an A grader, staying away from troubled boys and pursuing her own artistic dreams, dating with a white boy her family never and ever approves, crossing dangerous lines with her secret rebellious feelings which are about to blast and ruin everything she’s worked for.
Some parts of the book was truly bold, disturbing, realistic and extra harsh, shaking you to the core, giving you emotional turmoil!
Especially Rani’s abusive, somewhat obsessive relationship patterns with Oliver ached my heart deeply. Oliver’s fetishism and his need to define his girlfriend like an exotic creature instead of living, breathing human being, minor aggression facade of their bonding made me clench my fists, grit my teeth! I barely soothed myself and restrained my anger!
I loved Reni’s inner journey: the way of handling the intense pain of true and forbidden love, her discovery of her own sexuality against the cultural taboos, the way she learns to stand for herself, sharpening her artistic skills even though she acts against her family’s wishes, her unique, genuine relationship with her friend Kate! Yes, I loved this book so much! I truly devoured the pages at one sit! I couldn’t leave it! It was riveting, intriguing and addictive!
It took its place at my all time favorite YA reads! And I’m looking forward to read more works of the author sooner! I’m giving my five Indian, emotional, motivational, inspirational, unputdownable, heartfelt stars! It was one of my best reading experiences I’ve lately had!
Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s/ Knopf Books for young readers for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest thoughts.
I am so incredibly thrilled that this magnificent, unforgettable #ownvoices novel will be published in 2021. What a journey it's been for Anuradha! She has put her heart, soul, tears, and joy into creating American Betiya, which won the SCBWI YA Emerging Voices Award. With a setting in Evanston, IL and India, readers will get a personal view into Rani's close-knit Indian family and Oliver, the boyfriend who desperately wants to fit into it.
This is a novel brimming with friendship, family, love, identity, sex-positive experiences, self-discovery, and self-esteem.
A romance that unequivocally focuses on the protagonist, a first generation Indian-American teenager who finds herself balancing on a line that separates her traditional values and modern virtues. With an upbringing that has always brought restrictions around boys and an undivided attention in school, Rani feels caught between her conventional family and the exciting world around her.
When Oliver, a boy immensely passionate about art meets Rani, she immediately falls for him. But an artsy white guy with tattoos and piercings doesn't fit anywhere in her desi parents' book of expectations. So a secret interracial relationship commences and wonderfully shines light on the cultural differences and distinct backgrounds that often raise complexities in or deepen such connections. In addition to the emotional maneuver through heritage, identity, and self-discovery, this coming-of-age tale also stirs the ardent potion of a first and forbidden love.
↣ digital copy received via the publicist ↢
29.06.2020 the title is enough to suffice my desi soul. i mean, how many times have you seen 'betiya' it means daughter on a book.
I thought this would be a cute contemporary novel but I didn't end up liking it as much as I had hoped. I did like Rani, her family, and her best friend, Kate. The cultural differences and sex positivity were portrayed well. It also sheds light on racism, sexism, and taboos.
The love interest Oliver was such a bad character. He had a ton of red flags, fetishes Rani constantly, and completely naive. He becomes highly manipulative. gas lights, belittles, and also, extremely weird. I know that it was the point of the character but I really couldn't stand him. Rani also becomes annoyingly obsessed with him and struggles to stand up for herself. Later on she does begin to find herself and her identity but until then, I found her so frustrating.
Some of the dialogue felt stilted and the writing was choppy. The pacing just kind of stops and slows down before picking up again towards the 60% mark. I appreciate the diverse read of an Indian American girl character and everything was wrapped up well in the end but I just think this one is a little forgettable.
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
This book truly shook me to my core. I wasn't really expecting much going into it, but by the end I just felt so seen and understood as an Indian women. I genuinely think this book was something high school me needed and I think that's why it holds so much value for me now when I read it because it has all the messages and themes a younger version of myself crucially needed to hear to value and appreciate herself and her culture. I loved the juxtaposition of being between two worlds. Being too American, not being American enough. Being too Indian, not being Indian enough. You can see that simply from the title, the mix of American with the word Betiyan (a loving word for daughter), but once you get into the book, the push and pull of identify between them is seen so clearly.
The way this book was written the author did a phenomenal job being very raw and real with her characters and situations. This book was messy, the characters made lots of mistakes, but what teenager doesn't. I think the mistakes and messiness made it even more believable and relatable to the audience. Rani was depicted in such a way that I could not help but empathize with her because reading her was like looking at a reflection of my younger self. There were so many moments when you're growing up that you ask yourself questions about who you are and who you want to be. You want to be able to fit in and make friends, but you also want to surround yourself with people who love and understand you for your authentic self. As a South Asian woman, Rani was running through many of these questions, and it just broke my heart to see her question her own worth especially when she let certain racist things slide. It's easy to say that people of color should step up and say something in situations when they're uncomfortable, but it's not always easy and this book showed that. There are times when you'll meet people who won't think their words or actions are outwardly racist, but that doesn't mean microaggressions are okay. I feel as though this book is for all people alike because there's so many lessons to be learned from this story.
Another thing that I absolutely loved was the friendship between Rani and her best friend Kate! I'm a sucker whenever I see an emphasis on friendship in a book and Rani and Kate's in particular stood out to me because it mimicked friendships I have and have seen in my own life. My sister's best friend is actually not Indian, but they grew up together and she has always been someone who embraced our culture as we embraced hers. She would indulge in Bollywood movies and learn a few Hindi words so she could connect with our family on a deeper level and I couldn't tell you how much I appreciated that. My own best friend, though she's Indian has so many personality traits of Kate's. She's bold, abrasive at times, but doesn't take crap from anyone. She would go to the ends of the earth if I asked her too. But going back to the book, in their friendship in particular I found the depiction also not cookie cutter in anyway. It had that same level of authenticity because there were ups and downs as there are in any friendship especially when it comes to relationships and boys, but at the end of the day, it's those friendships that hold up and are with you for a lifetime.
I cannot sing enough praise about this book. I just really loved it! I hope you pick it up!
*Also I took off 0.5 stars only because there were a couple sentences that irked me slightly specially the comment about Lilly Singh (who I don't think is the best Indian figure for rep) and the comment on Gandhi who even I for a long time thought was such an amazing figure, which he has done good things, but that doesn't mean we should ignore all the bad and racist things he's done, thus the fact that he was only painted in a good light might be not as informative for people who don't know him if that makes sense)
American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar is an enlightening story about an Indian teenager secretly dating a white boy and trying to fit in. This is a great story of individuality and fitting in. Rani is a high schooler focused on her secret boyfriend which causes her to stray away from her family and friends. She is put in uncomfortable situations and has to figure out how to deal with them. When Oliver starts calling her an Indian princess and making questionable decisions Rani has to decide what she will do. Rani isn’t allowed to date and her parents would definitely not approve of her boyfriend. Rani grows up in a culture very different than mine, so I found it enlightening to hear her story. Family is important to Rani, so it is hard for her to go against her family’s wishes. I also found it very interesting that Rani’s best friend, Kate, is white and seeing how she fits in with Rani’s family. Kate’s reaction to everything going on with Oliver was interesting. Kate was a great friend to Rani throughout everything. Difficult issues like drug use are discussed in American Betiya. Rajurkar does an excellent job bringing the reader inside Rani’s perspective to think and feel like her. There were many situations that I was angry with while reading that I might not have even realized in person. I recommend American Betiya for anyone interested in an entertaining novel about teens and Indian culture.
Thank you Books Forward, Random House Children’s/Knopf Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for American Betiya.
American Betiya follows Rani, an Indian-American teen who meets a white boy named Oliver and begins dating him in secret. However, as the two continue to spend more and more time together, Oliver starts fetishizing Rani and her culture, and it’s clear that he is abusing and taking advantage of her. It was so enraging to read about this, and I found myself very angry during many points of the story. (Thankfully, other reviewers have mentioned that the book does not end with Rani staying with Oliver and continuing to deal with his manipulation, which I am so happy about.)
I really loved the Indian culture so beautifully represented in this book! Even the little things, such as Rani comparing her aunties and uncles to a wedding baraat, or Rani’s mother cooking roti and daal, truly warmed my heart. Rani’s best friend Kate was also amazing, and I adored their friendship and how wonderfully it was written!
I think my biggest problem with this book was Rani herself, though, as I simply could not connect with her. Many of the decisions she made contradicted one another, and it seemed as if she was just serving as a punching bag for the plot rather than acting like a three-dimensional character. I also found myself confused during many parts of the novel, as there were strange time jumps between chapters that threw me off. Also, the writing style was bland and boring to read, and just led to me feeling even more disconnected from Rani as a character. I think that I was also a bit unprepared for the content in this book, as the fetishization and racism was very hard to read, so that was another factor that played into my DNF.
Please don’t let my opinion discourage you from picking this up, though, as my DNF was mostly a case of “right book, wrong time"! I'm sure many other people will love this book, so take my review with a grain of salt.
Disclaimer: Thank you for Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinions in any way.
where i truly hoped i'd leave this book with tears accompanying my cheeks, i instead ended up sitting there with exactly one thing going through my head: hmmmmm.
the message gets a 10/10 from me. it's just that the execution didn't work out in my opinion, since i barely connected with the main character. not because of what she's going through, but because of what she's going through isn't developed well enough. it had so much potential but the pacing and lack of actual depth ruined it a bit for me.
nevertheless an important topic and message, but the book didn't live up to my expectations.
if you're interested on reading my full review on my blog (where i also linked to some own-voices reviewers), click here!
thank you to the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review! this did not affect my opinions in any way.
Thank you Anuradha for FINALLY giving me a YA book I can relate to and that I definitely needed when I was a teenager. I knew I would be able to relate to a lot of the issues the main character, Rani Kelkar, faces because we both have experienced growing up as a Desi-American teenager. I mean the struggle of strict parents but wanting to follow your heart is a tale as old as time. Also, the crushing pressure to be the model of success and do better than your parents is certainly a theme a lot of immigrant children can relate to. Moreover, the struggle to explain that to your friends and make them understand is a whole other obstacle on its own.
I loved that Rajurkar was able to show all those issues and themes while still giving me the sweet first-love teen romance I want in my YA books. Yes, it's about her culture and religion but at the same time, she is just a teenager trying to figure out how she fits into the world and her identity. She’s still a teenager trying to understand what love really is and what she wants in a relationship. She’s a teenager trying to figure out what her career will be. Those are topics every teen has probably grappled with. I know I certainly did!
This is a realistic YA book I definitely recommend to teens (and adults), and especially those struggling with cross-cultural life. I will likely be shoving this onto my Desi-American friends as well too haha. Overall, I was beyond honored to have read this ARC and I’m excited for the world to be able to read it.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Rajurkar's novel, a vivid portrayal of the challenges of growing up between cultures and traditions, the torturous emotions of first love, and the extremely relatable teenage angst we all experience. Rujurkar's writing is pitch perfect, and anchored in sensory details that immerse you in Evanston and high school. The novel is a combination of silk saris and rubber-soled combat boots: the perfect balance of sensitivity and edgy toughness. Young readers and adults alike will enjoy this fascinating debut novel.
content/trigger warnings: alcoholism, child abandonment/absent father, drugs, suicide attempt, suicide, death of a friend, pregnancy, racism, misogyny, addiction, abusive parents, death of a grandparent, grief, guilt, gaslighting, manipulation, infidelity, fetishization
i finished this a few hours ago and honestly i'm ... disappointed? i wish i had enjoyed it more. i don't know if i would've enjoyed it more had i known about some of the triggering content prior to reading it, or if my lack of enjoyment was due to things i personally did not ... vibe with ... (such as the strong anti-marijuana perspective) to say the least.
i loved the family dynamics, i loved the supporting characters — unfortunately, i think i was more interested in rani's family & her best friend than i was in ... her. i appreciated how microaggressions were covered, and i really loved how sex-positive this book was. something i also really loved was how rani comes to stand up for herself, how she comes into her own, and how she realizes that someone's past doesn't justify their shitty actions.
overall, i thought this was a fast read and would recommend it along with the list of trigger warnings mentioned above. american betiya was quite difficult to read at times, due to all the red flags between rani and oliver, but a poignant & important read nonetheless.
Is it crazy that I want to scream every time I think about this book? It is possible I’m being a wee bit dramatic but American Betiya managed to do that thing where my heart painfully constricts at the thought of Rani and her tumultuous journey to achieving self-fulfillment and owning her identity. Ahh this book gives me all the bittersweet feelings!!!
To put it simply, this story centers around a relationship between Rani and her "bad boy" artist boyfriend Oliver that starts off good and brings interesting changes to Rani’s life but eventually turns into something ugly and damaging. Rajurkar interweaves the dynamics of this relationship — that changes course when Oliver’s family life starts to get difficult — beautifully with the exploration of Rani’s family, cultural values and religion and basically encapsulates the complexities involved in the Indian American/immigrant experience. It was done so so well, the second half of the book being my absolute favorite.
I want to say here that this book deals with some heavy topics like racism & micro-aggressions, gaslighting and fetishization of someone’s culture. There’s great commentary on the same toxic narrative of "good" children getting into bad things and their families stigmatizing them. The author writes these well and with purpose but ofc major trigger warning!
A part of the story is also set in India and I cannot tell you how much I adored this part of the book- so many tears were shed, interesting revelations were brought to light, and mostly I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia as it’s been over a year since I’ve gone back.
Rajurkar was able to write authentic characters that I could connect with in unique ways. The most unique connection of all being with the MC Rani. Her storyline was admittedly one of the most frustrating ones I’ve had the experience of reading. It was a mixture of wanting to shake some sense into her head and also wanting to give her a tight hug. I just adored her character.
I loved how she embraced her culture wholeheartedly and I found the semi-awkward relationship with her parents, especially her mom, SO relatable- it was actually hilarious.
Kate was another favorite of mine. Her storyline jumped off the page with its own complexities and I honestly wouldn’t mind reading a book about her. I loved her role in Rani’s life and I think they had a great chemistry together.
And I have to shoutout Shalini, Rani’s cousin because I LOVE HER. . . This book put me through an all-rounded emotional journey and it’s no surprise I kept reading till 6 AM. I have found so much to love and appreciate about American Betiya and it’s easily one of my favorite books of the year. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry both sad and happy tears & you’ll constantly wonder about Rani and Oliver but it’s so worth it. Read American Betiya!!!
Trigger warnings: Emotional abuse, gaslighting, cultural fetishization, cultural appropriation, racism, micro aggressions, suicide, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, sex, death, loss of loved ones.
This book is EXQUISITE. Seriously one of the most gorgeously written, deeply emotional and nuanced books I've ever read.
The main character, Rani, felt so real to me. She jumps off the page, and I wanted to be friends with her! Her romance with Oliver starts out with such fireworks and fizz - Rajurkar perfectly captured the chemistry and heat of falling in love for the first time, which is one of my favorite things to read in books. I was completely drawn into Rani’s life and her struggle to hide her secret relationship with Oliver, and balance who she's becoming with the family-oriented girl she was before he blazed into her life. There were so many moments where I had to just stop and press my hand to my heart.
There's also a section of the novel set in India and I LOVED everything about it. The sensory descriptions and the movement around the bustling, vivid city were so lovingly rendered, and it was the perfect backdrop for the strong forward pull of emotions and motivations throughout that section. The ending of the novel was pitch-perfect, and subtly and effectively drove home the themes of the novel.
The writing is simply phenomenal. This book has that lovely magic that makes me just unmoor and trust that the author is going to take me on a gorgeous emotional journey. I was expecting romance and got SO much more. Rani’s story is real and powerful and tackles topics of culture collide and toxic relationships that few have done with this amount of grace and nuance.
A stunning debut. I'll be reading everything Rajurkar writes!
I have already been recommending this book to everyone I know. It is easy to fall in love with the lead, Rani, and understand that quintessential coming-of-age tension where you are attempting to extricate your own desires from that of your parents. Coupled with a first romance, living within two cultures, the complexities of teen friendship... this book pretty much has it all. I appreciated that my initial thoughts about where this story would take me were quickly shifted and I very much enjoyed being taken on the journey of self-discovery with Rani. . Thanks to Random House Children's and NetGalley for the advanced copy. All opinions my own.
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this book. I loved it! The characters spoke to me. I loved the Rani, an Indian American girl negotiating two cultures and forbidden love. She is spunky and smart. Her boyfriend, her family and best friend are beautifully portrayed.
AMERICAN BETIYA pulled me in from the very first pages. The writing so beautiful and assured, the prose pitch-perfect, and the world so crisply and intimately built.
Rajukar deftly explores the immediacy, the pain, and joy of first love so beautifully, while balancing it against the demands of family, tradition, and the need of a teen to rebel, When HS senior, Rani falls in love with Oliver, a talented, if a bit dangerous artist, she begins to cross boundaries she never thought she would. The only daughter of Indian immigrants she has been raised with the expectation that she keep her eye on her studies, and off of boys, But with Oliver Rani begins to push herself artistically and emotionally. It's intoxicating to be the object of first love. But as Rani begins to blossom under the light of Oliver's adoration, she also begins to realize that being adored brings with it complications that border on the obsessive. The novel explores issues of racism, micro-aggressions, fetishism and othering in a truly heart-wrenching manner. Rani's eventual development into a strong, independent and wise young women was so deftly handled, and I loved how it was her family - the very people she tried to keep at bay so she could grow — that were the ones who ultimately were there to guide and support her. This is a beautiful book and I am so happy for the young readers who will have this story to help them navigate their lives - to explore what is okay, and what crosses the line, both in love, friendship and across cultures. Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for the opportunity to read an advanced reader copy.
This YA novel is gorgeously written and perfectly captures the feeling of teenage infatuation and first love — the glances, the thoughts, the intensity. But Rani, the young heroine of the story, has even more to contend with, since she needs to keep her relationship a secret from her Indian immigrant parents. This story confronts racism and misogyny as through her struggles, Rani learns more about her family, her friends, and herself.
• The Desi Contemporary Book we were craving for ✅
• The Seamless Weaving of Words ✅ The book is not short, but it didn't took me too long to finish it, you may ask me why? The writing was seamless, it just flowed and kept me going.
• The Traditions and Customs described so well ✅ The description of festivals and cultures was done so well it couldn't be better. I really liked how there was points and notes about the starting of that festival and it's importance.
• The Friendship that had me crying ✅
• The Environment of a Desi Household ✅ Being a Desi myself I could relate to all the things going around in Rani's home. It was refreshing to read about it to be honest.
• The Racism and Hate for being ourselves Racism is nothing new for Asians who are living outside their country, but the way Anuradha described it made chills run down my spine. And if you've read the book YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. anyway.
• The Strong Bond between Grandparents and Grandchild ✅
• The Journey of Self Discovery and A Search for finding yourself ✅
Full review + moodboard + my favourite quotes on my blog
I loved the book, such a beautiful story and motive. Highly Recommended!
Thanks to Netgalley and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for providing the Arc in exchange of my honest review.
Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for this arc, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
I'll cut straight to the chase—Anuradha Rajurkar's AMERICAN BETITYA is the young adult contemporary novel I needed growing up as an Indian-American teenager.
It was effortless to relate to Rani Kelkar's journey amidst love and heartbreak to Indian culture and the racism that often follows, sometimes from the most unexpected places. Her coming-of-age is characterized by the staples of the genre (career aspirations, first and young love, parental conflict), but also transcends the tropes it is founded upon. AMERICAN BETIYA focuses not on what defines Rani's journey, but Rani herself, which makes for an incredibly compelling read that connects you to the characters instantaneously. And honestly, it was so refreshing to see an Indian American teenager face such unique challenges without losing herself or her identity, which isn't often portrayed in mainstream media.
Simply put, AMERICAN BETIYA is a must-read for anyone, regardless of if you're Indian, American, or somewhere in between. I highly recommend this wonderful story and will likely be screaming about it for the rest of my life :)
I think the biggest reason why i immediately fell in love with American Betiya and Anuradha D. RAjurkar's writing is that I could see so much of myself in Rani.
This book has resonated with me deeply. From the beginning of the story, with Rani in the gallery to the end, I saw so much of myself in her. Her relationship with Oliver was unique and i could see why she was so enamored with him, but the further I got into the book, the more odd I felt about the way he was acting about indian culture and I could tell Rani was also feeling the same.
Anuradha D. Rajurkar has captured this feeling fantastically well and what she wrote as Rani's thoughts were exactly what i felt. That's what elevated American Betiya for me. I will 100% be recommending this book to anyone and everyone because it's a truly wonderful read.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book already won a prize before being published (the National SCBWI Emerging Voices Award) and it's easy to see why -- it's so beautifully written and exceptionally wise. Though it's about teenage characters and written for a teenage readership, the truth is that adults will get a lot out of this book, too, and possibly more. The narrator, Rani, is impossible not to root for as she navigates the high-stakes final months of high school. She's smart, compassionate, a good friend, and working very hard to balance everything, including her parents' expectations for her and the demands her first love makes of her. What makes this book incredibly powerful, though is seeing Rani how confronts racism -- both from sources she expects and, painfully, places she doesn't -- with strength and grace and hard-won wisdom. Rare will be the reader who doesn't stand up and cheer at the end of this book -- and immediately recommend it to everyone they know!
When I read the synopsis, I laughed out loud because a guy with tattoos is every desi mom's biggest nightmare (at least in my home😂). Rajurkar's 'American Betiya' is all about Rani, who falls in love with Oliver, entranced by his charming personality and anxious about lying to her parents. In this cross-cultural romance, family drama, identity crisis, and sense of loss of one's position in this nonsensical world play a major role.
Rajurkar's writing is easy and at times, tedious. More than the writing style, it's the plot that won me over. The themes blend beautifully with the characters, each one built with precision. The story is accessible to people of all nationalities, giving a bird's eye view of desi families and their beliefs, and yet letting the readers understand the story (and cultural differences) at a steady pace.
This book beautifully explores the excitement and pain of a cross-cultural relationship that breaks cultural taboos, a teen romance carried out beyond the view of parents and others who may disapprove. The author’s ear for dialogue is pitch-perfect, and her understanding of high-school interactions, and academic and social hierarchies, make this a book that young people -- even old ones -- will recognize themselves in. Plus, it’s just a great story!
Wow. This book was absolutely incredible. Within the first few chapters I felt the richness of the culture being wrote about and Rani's family life which we also got glimpses to in India and I thoroughly loved every aspect. I found parts to be so insightful with discussions of religion, holidays, dating and honestly how hard some of these things can be. As someone who is white and not religious or having to life up to family expectations you can honestly see just how hard it must feel for Rani and the pressures of trying to please people from all sides.
When we first meet Oliver I thought this is going to be an all encompassing love of where Rani will have thoughts of her religion/family life and her boyfriend, but honestly it's so much more than this and it holds such a powerful understanding behind it. The relationship starts off to be quite sweet but also A LOT, and I genuinely thought it's just teen love so everything is ramped up by 100, but the more we see into the relationship we see just how problematic it actually is.
I won't go into too much details about this, but what I found so encompassing about this is the realisations early on but not full comprehending to what extent and then further down the line, actual discussions of how that affected Rani and her relationships with both family and friends.
This isn't a nice light fluffy read, it's hard hitting and such an important book to read, it feels like it was done with love and compassion in which two different worlds morph together. The discussions of family, expectations... just everything was so well thought out and really makes you think.
Such a wonderful book and I would genuinely recommend this to so many people. Just because you will never experience something doesn't mean that you can't learn and listen and this is what this book has done. Genuinely can't applaud this book enough. Very very good!
The book follows Rani, an Asian American girl trying to find herself in the midst of two contradictory cultures she has been raised in. With a passion for art, she owns the chance to have her photographs displayed at an art gallery and her entire family comes to support her. There, she meets Oliver, a tattooed art-loving boy who intrigues her.
Despite all the risks, Rani decides to try and get to know him better and it seems to be everything she wants as he listens to her and makes her feel seen. But things start going sideways sooner rather than later as he makes small remarks, such as nicknaming her ‘Princess Jasmine’ and calling her ‘exotic’, which may not seem like a big deal to him but as things start piling up, it soon becomes clear that things between them are not going on.
From Oliver invalidating Rani’s culture and pressuring her to let him meet her parents to not standing up for her when she says that she is a vegetarian, he belittles her. Rani, unsure what to do, gives into him and his fantasies, trying to make him happy in whatever was possible as she feels guilt for not introducing him to her parents.
Cultural differences are a territory that is hard to explore but when one person is not willing to understand the other person’s perspective, it is even harder. Further, there is always a gender difference, which isn’t explored all that much here but is still important to consider. Not just in Asian communities, but worldwide, there is a difference when a boy brings a girl home versus when a girl brings home boy and Oliver not seeing even that made me even angrier.
It is hard not to feel the frustration and confusion swirling around in Rani’s hard as she tries to understand what to do. The things that she experiences are difficult for one to process and watching her learn and grow from the experience. I am glad to have read Rani’s story and the truth that the author has tried to present to us through it.
This book deals with a lot of important topics that are hard but important to talk about such as fetishisation and micro aggression and seeing how Rani deals with it all and refuses to lose her identity of herself is awe inspiring. This book is a much needed one today where we pretend to be very progressive and overlook such things which seemingly ‘could not be done today’ despite the heartbreaking reality.
It is very rarely that one gets to see a true desi term in a contemporary book title. When the cover revealed happened for American Betiya last year, I was sold. The theme sounded so good, the cover was stunning and the title was an immediate catch.
American Betiya follows Rani and Oliver’s tumultuous romance as she grapples with identity, culture and what it means to love.
The book starts with Rani in an art exhibition where she first sees Oliver. From the first page, first line itself, we readers are told how chaos is in the near future. We get to know from the first page that Rani is interested in photography, wants to pursue pediatrics, and is barred from dating. But Oliver makes her want to break the last rule, and a whole lot more.
“He is my mother’s worst nightmare.”
That is how the book starts, and that is how Oliver is described head on. I did like Oliver’s character at the beginning. He was amusing and his sweet handling of the relationship made me gooey inside. And then the signs showed up and I was screaming in my head for Rani – get out, get out, get out! I think the author did a good job with Oliver because no matter how much I disliked him, I was also marveling at the way his personality was developed, his character arc shown and portrayed in the book. The red signs do appear from the first meet itself, really, but the manipulation in his words is pretty inevitable and we readers, along with Rani, fall under his charms too.
Rani was a highly relatable character, I won’t lie. It is pretty universal about desi parents being hardcore about relationships and dating during teen years, and the way that we kids defy them anyway. Rani’s sneaky outings to go and meet Oliver, the phone calls she disguises as being from her best friend – these instances were so relatable that it took me back to my first dating years when I was sixteen. I couldn’t help but giggle through those parts.
But there were certain points where Rani’s character also infuriated me. for one, her oblivious to Indian items like tandoor when she claims to love India. It felt very weird that someone who loved her culture so much wouldn’t know what a damn tandoor was. Besides, there were some instances where her thoughts were so occupied with Oliver that it became a nuisance to read. I understand, you are in love. But still –
And the first half of the story dragged so much. For real. For fifty percent of the book, there were no such incidents that would excite me. a lot of things felt repetitive, and while I enjoyed all of the dates that the two love birds went to, I don’t think I needed heavy descriptions of all of them. Some parts from the first few chapters could have been cut out and the story would have been completely fine, I feel.
Again, while everything was relatable, I also did feel that the extent of ‘no dating’ rule was very exaggerated. I find it hard to believe that the simple mention of a boy or dating could turn her mother’s mood foul – that was a little too much, I feel.
Another thing I wish was more extensively dealt with was grief. Having loved her grandpa so much, I think we didn’t see enough of Rani mourning him. Those chapters were very rushed, and her repenting the previous drama back with her best friend and Oliver. Which was, to be honest, a little throwdown. But then again, people grieve in different ways, so that is that.I think the fact that it took so long for the climactic elements to step in that I lost a lot of my patience and interest in the story.
At a point, Rani and Oliver got very annoying. At a point, I was just telling the story to move somewhere, to like maybe have the parents find out or something. Nothing of that sort happened but something else did which was – well, quiet horrifying.The play with culture identities and exoticization of Indians was portrayed to well. A lot of Oliver’s actions towards the later half of the book infuriated me so much, horrified me, and my heart went out for Rani. No one deserves to go through something like that – no one. I commend the author for taking up such a theme and seamlessly incorporating it into the narration.
The subtle institutionalized racism against Indian Americans was also spot on. Her peers calling Rani the Gandhi Girl, the little comments against her traditional wear on Halloween – they might seem funny and unrelatable but such things happen and keeps happening.
The writing and narration were kind of choppy at times, but I enjoyed the way Rani’s voice seeped out through the words. For a debut, I think it was a decent and solid writing that makes a reader scrolling through or flicking the pages. She took Indian culture and incorporated it in the story in such a way that once you are finished, you learn something about our culture and traditions. It isn’t preachy but informative, and I liked that.
So, yes, there were a few qualms I had with the story, things that bugged me and parts that bored me, especially how much it dragged and exaggerated. Yet, I enjoyed reading it, especially the bold end (which, again, I wish was a bit more nuanced and not rushed), and I think a lot of desi readers are going to find it highly relatable too. It’s a fresh debut and I’ll be looking forward to more from the author!
Rani had always been the model daughter. She was studious and spent her spare time reading articles pertaining to her future as a medical doctor. She was active in her community, often volunteering with the younger children. But when Oliver showed an interest in Rani, she embarked on a secret relationship with him that had her struggling between her love for him and her love for her family.
This book had me feeling ALL the emotions. I felt the euphoria of first love, the guilt of betraying loved ones, the stress of having to compromise yourself for someone else, and the pain of multiple losses. This was quite a journey for Rani. It was riddled with poor choices, but I was elated and practically fist-punching for her in the end.
I am first generation American, but my father pretty much abandoned his culture when he moved to the US, so I cannot relate to Rani's experience in that way. However, I appreciated her struggle with trying to find herself somewhere between the two cultures. That was something which was really interesting for me. Rani had a certain perception about her parents, their ways, and their rules at the beginning of the story. I saw it slowly change as Rani's relationship with Oliver evolved. I think my favorite part of this story was when the bottom fell out, and Rani was forced to come to terms with the situation. It was then she started having honest discussions and began to really understand her parents and herself.
When everything started to crumble, Rani was whisked away to Pune. I thought it was a brilliant and really meaningful way to allow her to get back on track. There, she was surrounded by her family and immersed in her culture. She did a lot of soul searching about how these parts of her added up to the whole, and it resulted in some deeply touching moments.
When I finished this book, I was drying my tears. It was a roller coaster journey for Rani (and me). There were highs and lows, gains and losses, and in the end, she discovered a lot about herself.
Overall: Extremely heartbreaking and touching, while also being very honest.