The only family Samar, who goes by Sam or Sammy, has ever known is her mother. It’s Samar and her mother against the world and, for the most part, that’s been enough. Sure, Sammy sometimes gets jealous of her best friend Molly’s huge Irish family but they so often include her in their family’s activities that she almost feels like she’s one of them. Sam’s feelings about family and about her history change with the sudden arrival of her long estranged uncle, Uncle Sandeep. Uncle Sandeep arrives on her porch not long after 9/11 looking to reconnect with his sister and niece. Uncle Sandeep is warm, kind, and funny, and Sam loves spending time with him. The more time she spends with him, the more she wants to know about the parts of her heritage and her relatives that her mother has kept secret. Sam goes on a personal quest to figure out who she is and where she comes from.
Reaction: I really, really enjoyed this one. I sat down and read it in less than a day. I thought Sam was a very believable and realistic teenage girl who just so happens to be going through a huge identity crisis. I loved how Sam could switch between worrying about something as superficial as what clothes she was going to wear out to worrying about something as deep as her heritage, religion, and family roots. I also loved how Sam tended to vilify her mother, suddenly going from completely trusting her mother’s decisions to blaming her and accusing her of wrongful neglect by keeping Sam from her extended family. I thought this was another very teenage thing to do, to only see the situation as black and white, one person as right or wrong. Sam eventually saw the shades of gray and began to understand her mother’s choices. I also really liked how Sam was able to teach her mother something about forgiveness and perspective.
At times I thought the dialogue sounded a bit unnatural, a few times the writing seemed a bit forced, and I found some of the many similes a bit out of place, some jarred me out of the story, but none of these little things really mattered in the end. As the story got rolling, I felt as though Meminger hit her stride and I just got completely sucked into Sam’s life.
One last thing that I loved. Meminger mentions websites that Sam uses to learn about Sikhism. I was wondering if they were real so I searched for pretty much all of them. I found all but one and I’m sure that one was probably active at the time Meminger wrote the book. On one of the sites, sepiamutiny.com, I found this post which I thought fit in nicely with one of the issues raised in the book. If you watch the video you’ll have to read the book to see how it ties in.