The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Originally published as: The Sunita Experiment) by Mitali Perkins

Sunita is managing just fine living the stressful life of a tween.  She’s got a best friend who needs beauty tips, a feminist older sister at Berkley who berates her for shaving and a best friend named Michael who just might someday be more than just a friend.  But when her grandparents arrive from India, Sunita is ready to melt with embarrassment.  Her mother has set aside her western clothes in favor of sarees, has started wearing a bindi but worst of all, has asked her not to have Michael over anymore, because her grandparents just wouldn’t understand.

Sunni’s shame over who she is makes her act in some pretty unattractive ways.  She doesn’t tell Michael the truth about why she can’t see him anymore.  She reaches out to another girl in friendship, but immediately after extending an invitation to hang out, she ditches the girl just because she hears someone whisper about “the colored girls stick together.”  When her best friend is going on a sort-of date, Sunni gives her the cold shoulder. It’s ugly behavior, but it’s also the kind of thing middle school girls do.  In the end, through the love and patience of everyone around her, Sunni learns that it’s okay to be Indian and American, not just one or the other.

Great for: Showing family togetherness despite friction.  It’s also great for children who are trying to figure out how to reconcile their cultural identity.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Sunita likes a boy. Dadu watches soap operas, but abandons most of them because people remove their clothes. In class students discuss marriage traditions and customs of other countries. Classmates exclaim that it’s gross to sleep with someone you don’t know. Liz’s sister Tracy and her friends make out with boys at a party.
Profanity– Sunni calls herself names: moron, idiot, fool, jerk.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Liz’s sister Tracy serves beer to other teens at a party. The younger girls do not drink however.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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