American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021, 366 pages
Content Warning: Strong language, racism, xenophobia, sexual content, misogyny, teen drug/alcohol abuse, child abandonment/absent father, abusive parents, infidelity, unplanned pregnancy, mention of suicide/death of a friend, death of a grandparent, grief, guilt, toxic relationships (manipulation, gaslighting, cultural fetishization)
About the Author: “Anuradha D. Rajurkar was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, the proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents. She earned two degrees from Northwestern University, before becoming a teacher, writing young adult fiction in her off-hours. Her debut novel, American Betiya, has been honored with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Emerging Voices Award. Nowadays, Anuradha lives in Wisconsin, where she spends her free time obsessing over her garden, watching old horror flicks with her family, and roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns.” (Bio taken from the back of AMERICAN BETIYA.)
Rani Kelkar works hard to be the ideal Indian daughter, the ideal betiya. When Rani meets Oliver, a rough-around-the-edges artist who supports her passion for photography, their connection is electric and unlike anything Rani has felt before— and it must be hidden from her immigrant parents. Rani and Oliver’s secret relationship flourishes, until the small problems become bigger and bigger. When the divide between culture reaches its peak, a family emergency sends Rani’s family to India for the summer. Facing the reality of her situation, Rani begins to reflect on who she is, what she stands for, and where her future is headed.
American Betiya was a welcomed shock to my system. Rajurkar’s characters felt so incredibly real, and the story reflects our world with such raw emotion and gravity. Racism is portrayed as it appears in real life: from unwitting microaggressions to full on verbal assault. As a reader, it was painful and frustrating to witness Rani discover and experience these abuses. As an Asian-American, it was unforgettable reading a book that explored racism so openly. I rooted for Rani like she was my best friend, and cried just the same as she endured the inevitable heartbreaks of growing up and making mistakes. Rani’s relationships— romantic, platonic, and familial— all hit in such nuanced and complex ways. Her journey of self-love and acceptance did, too. While tough to read at times, Rani’s story will connect with anyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age. Rajurkar’s debut novel not only resonated with me as a young woman of color, but also opened my eyes to the intricacies of cultural awareness, self-expression, and personal identity. I look forward to Rujurkar’s future books, eager to read more stories with the heart and heritage of American Betiya.
PRR Writer, Erika Brittain