Note: Our school librarian attended Book Expo America this past week and brought back over 120 books. The next few reviews I do will be from that massive haul, and are all ARCs. It’s pretty cool to see what’s coming up in the publishing world!
Title: Rani Patel in Full Effect
Author: Sonia Patel
Specs: Paperback, 301 pages plus glossary of Gujarati and Hawaiian terms
Publishing Information: Will publish October 2016, Cinco Puntos Press from El Paso, TX
Diverse Elements: Protagonist is Indian-American, specifically Gujarati. She lives in Hawai’i on the island of M’olokai. Other major characters are Native Hawaiian and Asian.
(Gonna do my best here–this story is so complex and layered I can’t even do it justice)
Rani is a Patel, formerly of Connecticut, recently of M’olokai, Hawaii. Rani’s Gujarati upbringing clashes with her own ideas about living and love and threatens to destroy her fragile sense of self as she uses underground hip-hop to explore her deeply embedded traumas.
Rani catches her father making out with a girl barely older than Rani herself. Rani is on the line between 16 and 17 years old, and this betrayal of their family makes her think she has been replaced. She shaves her head completely bald, prompting her mother to speak to her of the Gujarat tradition of women shaving their heads when they have become widows. Rani is stunned that her withdrawn and almost mute mother has broken her silence to connect with her daughter, but this is short-lived.
Rani has apparently always been the diplomat of her parents’ shattered marriage. Her father is an obvious narcissist and sociopath who has used his wife’s subservience as a way to make Rani a sort of emotional stand-in as a wife. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this emotional incest is MORE than emotional.
Rani struggles at school to fit in. She’s not Hawaiian but speaks out for Native Hawaiian rights. She’s intelligent but not altogether social. She’s the student body class president only because no one ran against her. Where she fits in is mostly at her family store which she often runs by herself, which is where she meets Mark, a 31 year old recovering batu (meth) addict. She is profoundly attracted to him and has shockingly sexual fantasies about him as well as one of her classmates, Pono.
It’s evident early on that if Rani is to be saved from her life, it will be with art–the art of hip-hop. She is invited to join an underground group called 4eva Flowing and makes it in. It’s run by Mark, and Pono’s involved too. It’s here that shy, meek, angry Rani becomes empowered as MC Sutra, spitting rhymes about being a Gujarat woman, objectification and subjugation, racism and privilege, and finding a place.
But not even the scene can save her as her past catches up with her and begins to repeat itself.
What I Liked: I really liked that this is not a book I would normally read. I’m NOT a fan of commercial rap or hip-hop. I can get down to some MC Hammer once in a while, but even that I find distasteful if I listen to the lyrics too closely (his feminism was not exactly…there. at all. hmm. feel free to disagree on this point). I’ve heard of using hip-hop as commentary and revolution, like KRS-One, but I’ve never seen it in fiction before, and have to say that I really appreciated it. Kinda makes me want to find out more about that world.
What I Disliked: Petty things, like the font used. It’s hard for my eyes to adjust to a small-point Sans Serif font. Also, there were so many plot lines that some of them were not well-resolved or realistically resolved. I think by focusing on some of the bigger issues in more complex ways the story could have been even more powerful.
What I Loved: The poetry. I mean, for real. This goes back to the hip-hop as revolution thing. It’s bold, it’s new, it’s fresh, and it’s freaking GOOD. So, the author, Sonia Patel is a therapist living in Hawai’i. I’ve been to therapy a few times, but I’ve never had a therapist that can recite spoken word or spit rhymes. Like, what? But good job, Ms. Patel. Good freaking job.
I loved seeing how such a broken mother/daughter relationship begins to heal and how it’s messy and complicated but in the end a mother doing right for her daughter so that the 16 year old doesn’t have to be the adult in the household making hugely adult decisions by herself.
Something else I loved was that this story covers a LOT of issues. Incest/Molestation, Rape, Co-Dependence, Drug Use, PTSD, Feminism. And each of them is treated–well, like it should be. Like facts. It’s not sugar-coated, and it’s not overwhelmingly pathetic. Rani is deeply flawed, but she is also courageous and strong. She makes some really bad choices, but she ends up making amazing connections between her present and her past. It’s gritty, and it’s real. And that’s what makes it human.
(rap from the chapter “Love and War” about the oppression of the women in her family)
You’re finally free of his chains–invisible
emotional abuse, unseen–permissible
statue like, enslaved soul–survivin’
isolated wife, his alone–he’s deprivin’
he got no love for her–cuz his ego lackin’
wife a commodity–mirror crackin’
has a kid to appease the masses–curry culture
raise her as your boo–perverse nurture…
..and two generations back it’s worse
unfaithful man–her curse
her solution–leave the situation
his solution was her live cremation
fire burning in his Indian eyes
demise covered up in his lies…
…descended from this slaughter
me and a thousand other daughters
navigating ancient rivers, muddy waters
taboo subject they hope we forget
but it makes us hate ourselves, playin’ Russian roulette
how can we expect more
when we refuse to explore
…kama sutra ain’t all I’m good for
kids I bore, but, there’s so much more
what you don’t know
is that I’m settlin’ the score
it ain’t all fair in love and war.
Recommended For: older teens and young adults or anyone interested in helping those with a background of sexual abuse.
Why It’s Important: (New Category!) Girls’ stories need.to.be.told. Yes, we still live in in a world where “I’ll give you money to get married and have lots of male babies” HAPPENS. We still live in a world where girls’ voices are disposable. It wasn’t until 3 years ago that I realized just how many girls and women (myself included) talk about “other girls” like diseases, like feminism is as simple as “support me or you must be against me” or something. This book shows us the world of one girl whose experiences and feelings and thoughts and actions would be dismissed outright by those who don’t wish to see others and their hurts, by those who see girls as commodities and property rather than as sentient beings with wills of their own but who are still being told how to be and feel and move in a world hostile to “the other,” creating more “otherness” in its wake.
Note: And I found the author, Sonia Patel, on Facebook, and she wrote back! Like, really quickly! It always surprises me for some reason when author’s respond, and gets me all giddy and warm 🙂