Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

E940_SCH_BornConfused_0.tifReading level: 7.2
Lexile: 890
Genre: Realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she’s spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course it doesn’t go well — until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America.

Minor spoilers below!

The synopsis of Born Confused is terribly generic: teenage Indian girl living in the US resists family traditions of her parents, struggles to figure out who she is and where she fits in Indian/American culture, fights with her best friend over a boy, and ultimately discovers her identity. Nothing new, right? Maybe not, but what led me to rate this book 5 out of 5 stars (which doesn’t happen very often) was the beautiful writing and the realistic (though not always likeable) characters.

I loved the main character and narrator Dimple mostly because she is so introspective. She works to tease out her feelings so she can analyze them as she wrestles with her identity. Especially in contrast to her best friend Gwen, Dimple is humble and kind. Dimple is a girl I could be friends with, and those, to me, are the best characters.

Now, Gwen is also interesting. We don’t learn until well into the story that she has many secrets, but I didn’t feel like her background excused her from being rude and manipulative at times. Plus, Gwen is overly confident (at least so it appears) and extroverted, the opposite of Dimple (and me), which made her hard to like, but it also made it easy for me to be legitimately mad at her, causing me to be even more on Dimple’s side.

Dimple’s parents are great in that they are annoying and embarrassing but so, so loving. Dimple feels suffocated by them while appreciating all that they do for her, and she has the unique ability to understand their motives while disagreeing but not full-out revolting. Dimple and Gwen talk about Dimple’s parents being “perfect” and how she can’t complain about anything bad in her life because she has two loving parents. Dimple replies that just because her family is intact doesn’t mean she must feel guilty. Rather, she should be appreciative, which she is.

Dimple’s cousin Kavita, we learn late in the story, is a lesbian who comes out of the closet to Dimple. Dimple reacts by embracing this new information while also wrestling with the idea that her “girly” cousin doesn’t fit the stereotypical description of lesbian. Dimple flat out asks her questions to Kavita, who answers thoughtfully and honestly. A beautiful moment.

We also meet Zara, a transvestite who Dimple befriends. And you can’t help but adore Zara with her confidence and strength to be who she is. Coming to know Zara is instrumental in helping Dimple embrace her identity.

While some parents might be upset that Born Confused has lesbians and transvestites, I’m not worried about those parts for the story. However, the characters do smoke pot and discuss sex occasionally, although there’s nothing graphic. For those two reasons, I’m rating it pg-13. And really, this story is written for approximately 9th grade and above (and maybe for more mature middle schoolers) due to the age of characters, what they’re experiencing, and the reading level. The story is beautifully written, but the language is complicated with Indian words, metaphors, pop culture references…you name it. Therefore it’s not ELL friendly.

Lastly, don’t be put off by the length of the book (it’s 512 pages). I listened to the audiobook, and the story breezed right by for me.

Born Confused is my fifteenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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