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Summary: For most kids, an allergic reaction to coconut would be, well, an allergic reaction. You get over it. Not for Abby Spencer. It went much deeper than that. It turned knowing her father's identity from a "wish I knew" to "I have to know." For 13 years, she knew that her parents met in college and that after college he returned to India before her mother could tell him she was pregnant. She knew her Mom had sent letters, but that her father had never responded. Now, Abby was going to get answers to all her questions. Only one question really matters: What if she's not the daughter her father wanted? Travel with Abby to Mumbai as she learns about herself and her heritage.
Type of Reading: family reading, anytime reading, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 10 and up; read yourself: 11 and up
Young Reader Reaction: This book introduces readers to the Indian culture from the perspective of a young girl who despite her heritage, feels detached from it. Bajaj calls to attention the predicament numerous children are facing today, and connects her characters with actual problems kids confront. he also includes problems they wish they had - having a celebrity father - which lends the book its enticing quality. That said, the fame and fortune element are unrealistic, which limits the book to being a fun piece of fiction.
Abby’s character is framed to fit a young girl, with a loud personality. Unfortunately, she overshadows some of the other characters. This book is interesting as it takes on the American-born Indian culture through a person who can associate with it, but not know its customs at all, which is becoming much more common now than ever before.
Adult Reader Reaction: Abby is a girl with whom many single-parent children and every adopted child can relate. She has an authentic voice that asks the questions that are part of their mindset. The diverse set of characters (life roles, not just ethnicity) was a big plus for me. Abby will likely open eyes of readers who are not part of multicultural families.
Pros: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood mashes the struggles of a typical pre-teen girl into a charming book with a happily ever after ending. Abby brings readers into her journey of self discovery with an authentic voice and humor. She is an ambassador of the joys that come from being open to new ideas, new places, and everyone around you.
Cons: Although it isn't a big deal, but why did Dad have to be a movie star? His request that Abby and her mom keep Abby's existence a secret to protect his reputation added a sense of "shame" (from an adoptee's perspective) that was just another (unnecessary) layer for the reader to cut through.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow. This is a wonderful book, and it would make a very nice gift for a middle grade reader. On its surface it will appeal more to girls, but its themes will resonate with boys (especially adopted boys) as well.
Educational Themes: The story is a conversation starter for single-parent families, as well as adoptive families, particularly those who celebrate different cultures. Abby's travelogue through Mumbai is very descriptive, lists a number of famous sites, and talks about the Bollywood industry. It would be very easy to complement the story by finding pictures and/or renting movies.
Notes: A Reading Tub volunteer borrowed this book from the library. She read it for the 2014 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award (Cybils) process. It was a Middle Grade Fiction finalist. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils.