YA Friday: Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Friday, September 02, 2011

Title: Born Confused
Author: Tanuja Desai Hidier
Genre: YA, multicultural fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2003
Source: Library

Dimple Lala has spent her entire life caught between two cultures - the Indian culture her parents belong to and the American culture she lives in. She is too Indian for America, too American for India, and she thinks she is the only one who feels this way until her cousin introduces her to the South Asian scene at NYU. Suddenly, Dimple meets people who are fusing India and America into their own beautiful, powerful lives - including a very special someone she may or may not have rejected earlier because he was approved of by her parents. However, things get complicated when Dimple's blonde and leggy best friend, Gwyn, decides to get involved in the South Asian scene as well - because the main attraction is that same special someone.

Okay. Where was this book when I was in high school? Actually, I can answer that. It was published during my freshman year, and I almost read it. My best friend at the time, Lily, read it, but told me I might not like it because there was a lot of swearing in it. There is some swearing, this is true, although mostly Dimple's expletive of choice is "frock." However, I think Born Confused would have been monumental in helping me get through my own little identity crises when I was in high school. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I loved this book so much that I am almost afraid to write it up because I know I can't possibly do it justice. 

Before I even get into the story and the characters, I have to rave about the writing. Tanuja Desai Hidier is a master with language, writing with wit, clarity, and beauty. It is told from Dimple's perspective, and her voice is fresh, sarcastic, and full of truth. FOR EXAMPLE...
His finger approached and skimmed my face. When it pulled away a raindrop glistened jewel-like on the tip. It reminded me of how my father collected my tears on his thumb, coaxing them off me with healing hands, without breaking them, as if even my sadness were a precious thing.
I could open almost any page in the book and give you similar results. This writing brought my heart to my throat so many times. I think this is partly why it resonated so strongly with me. 

The story itself resonated even more strongly, something that surprised me at first. After all, I am not Indian. I'm not any specific culture - just a EuroAmerican mutt. But while the story is told in the context of an Indian girl trying to find her niche between two worlds, the real story is that of self-discovery - learning what is important to you, what touches you, what, as Desai Hidier so hauntingly described it, "transfuses your blood." As Dimple discovers those pieces of life that build and shape her, she develops this joy in life that is infectious through the pages of the story. She grows close to her family, deepens and expands her friendships, revels in art (she is a photographer). She embraces parts of the Indian culture that are meaningful to her, but certainly stays in touch with her Americanness. I was moved by this journey, especially when you compare page 1 Dimple to page 500 Dimple. She transforms from an insecure girl furtively nursing her passion for photography to a balanced woman exploring life and constantly learning more. She grows. She shifts around in her skin until she can be comfortable. And while this lesson is especially poignant to teenagers, I think it is important for adults as well. 

This is the first book I have ever finished and then, literally, started over again. I am reading through it a second time and enjoying it even more, because now I can see how far Dimple comes in one short summer and have the opportunity to revel in the language a bit more. I think this book has the potential to be meaningful to a wide audience. Just read it!

5 stars

Warnings: a few expletives, drug use, innuendo


  1. I just typed up this massively long comment about how this book looked interesting to me because of a conversation I had with my husband not-too-long ago, and that maybe I ought to read it. Then I looked at the comment and was embarrassed at how wordy it was. So I deleted it, and decided to go with this one. -->

    Sometimes I think that America lacks a culture that is rich and our own. What I mean is that...I think sometimes all I can think of that belongs uniquely to America is hot dogs and baseball. I'm sure this is not true, but I look around and see so many things that are richly from other cultures...recipes that belonged to someone's grandmother from France, a type of European furniture, etc. I can see how things become so blended. People from other countries move to America, have children, and the children marry the cultures...like the teen in this book. I know it seems very elementary, but I promise...the husband and I had a very profound conversation just a few days ago!!!

    Glad you loved the book!


  2. I am glad you shared that comment because this book really got me thinking about that. It made me want to immerse myself into a culture and so I was trying to think of what America's could be. I love baseball, so we have a check there... other than that I was trying to think of Revolutionary War type things. In some ways it is awesome that America has so many different pasts but I do wish that I had more traditions and things that tied me with another group of people.

  3. Exactly! When I read Amy Plum's Die For Me, there were so many things in that book that were so uniquely Parisian (that place seems to be oozing with a culture that is entirely their own...food, architecture, etc.). I also thought the same thing when I started Between Shades of Grey by Rita Sepetys. The narrator is speaking about a certain time of day when everyone in the neighborhood sits their freshly baked bread in their windowsills to cool before the evening meal, and the streets smell delicious. It just made me think that it would be very cool to be able to provide something like that for my children. They are too young yet to understand what a rich culture is, so they aren't lacking in anything, but it was just a thought and a thought-provoking conversation. That's where I was going with my ginormous comment. :)


  4. It totally makes sense. Now I want to see my life through the eyes of someone from another country and try and dissect what is American culture in a positive light.


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