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The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen    by Mitali Perkins order for
Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen
by Mitali Perkins
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (1993)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sunita Sen is an 8th grade student in California, an all-American girl whose friends appreciate her Indian heritage. She does too, until her grandparents arrive for a year-long visit and disrupt her life.

It's not just that she has to give up her bedroom to them and share with her older sister, but her Mom changes big-time for her parents' visit. She gives up her job as a college lecturer, wears sarees all the time, cooks only Indian food (instead of often ordering pizza and sushi), and forbids Sunita to bring her friend Michael Morrison over. Sunita really likes Michael, but doesn't want to tell him that he's been forbidden her house, and also doesn't want him to see their new, totally Indian, lifestyle. And she doesn't understand why he hangs around the popular, but shallow, LeAnn and her in-crowd. So she doesn't explain and is distant, hurting both of them in the process.

Misunderstandings proliferate, but at the same time, Sunita becomes closer to her Dadu (grandfather) who turns their backyard wilderness into a garden, tells stories of his childhood, helps her with homework, and quotes Bengali poet (and Nobel Laureate) Rabindranath Tagore to her. While all this develops, a teacher encourages Sunita's class to explore cultural diversity, and she backs off from befriending an African American student who's new to the school after she overhears a whispered derogatory comment. But eventually her love for her grandfather overcomes her desire to conform, and Sunita stands up for what is right.

Sunita is a typical teen, a high achiever (an A student and skilled tennis player), who likes one particular boy, has had a best friend (Liz) all through childhood, but also has a bunch of insecurities. I especially enjoyed her dreaming herself into her favorite movies and books, like Casablanca and The Secret Garden. The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen is a sweet story of family ties and peer pressure, and the misunderstandings that develop from lack of communication.

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