my basmati bat mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Tara’s father is Jewish and her mother is East Indian, so Tara has mixed feelings about her upcoming bat mitzvah.  Some of the kids in her Hebrew class even wonder if she is actually Jewish at all.  Tara though is more concerned with whether she actually believes in God and if she doesn’t, does that mean that she can’t have a bat mitzvah?  She also worries about what celebrating this side of her family says to the other side.  So Tara decides to make sure that both sides of her family are represented by wearing a family sari that had been passed down for generations.  Unfortunately though, the sari is accidentally burned and Tara has to figure out how to tell her mother about it.  But that’s not the only complexity in Tara’s life.  Her best friend Rebecca seems to be spending more time with another girl, someone that Tara doesn’t get along with.  Her other best friend Ben-o seems interested in being more than friends sometimes but other times spends a lot of time with another girl.  It’s up to Tara to navigate all of the confusion and make her bat mitzvah her own.

Freedman very successfully tells the story of a young woman dealing with two distinct family heritages.  Happily, she doesn’t feel the need to build heightened angst about it, allowing Tara’s personal doubts to really drive this part of the story.  Her family around her does not have the same feelings, sharing holidays with one another and enjoying the same foods, most of the time. 

The book has a lightness of tone that makes the book very enjoyable.  Freedman explores bullying with a perfect touch, but less successfully explores the underlying issues.  Tara is a strong heroine who is far from perfect.  She has a temper, responds physically at times, and can be too self-absorbed to really see what is happening with her friends.

Hurrah for a book with a brown-skinned girl right on the cover that explores her multicultural heritage in such a straight-forward way!  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.