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There are some books that I love even before I pick them up. And that's because I've fallen in love with the way the author writes much, much before the words in this book actually came together in published form.
Lakshmi's writing, to those who are familiar with it, is like a warm cup of tea (or coffee) that you sip on and savour, when you're reading the morning paper. It's how I remember the very first time I read a blog post of hers and the topic was about making phulkas. That sense of comfort just seeped through the words on the screen and made themselves at home in that part of my heart that knew, 'This was a writer I can grow to love.'
In her debut children's book, Lakshmi does not disappoint.
The story of Avantika, a young girl, who wonders why her hair is curly when everyone else at home has straight hair is at once intriguing and delightful. And while the story itself is about curly haired woes, the circumstances around it are gentle family stories that anyone can relate to: being teased at school, feeling left out and alone, enjoying a train journey with the family, finding a secret friend who seems to 'get you'. These are what give the story a very universal appeal.
By far, my favourite part of the book and what had me tearing up was the speech of Avantika's in the end, where she comes into her own. It's a beautiful process of evolution, both from a story standpoint and a message of personal growth, one that is told with credibility and love.
There is so much to love about the book that only a full reading will do it total justice. Go get your copy today :)
*Disclosure: I was sent an Advanced Reader's Copy for an honest review and also purchased the paperback version once it was released.
‘We both get window seats!’ said Avnish — and with that very fist line Why is my Hair Curly by Lakshmi Iyer gets set to reel in the reader (At 14, my twins still strike deals for the window seat).
The book is about Avantika who is constantly troubled by her thick mass of curly hair unlike that of her parents and her brother who are blessed with straight silky manes. She reminds me a little of Anne of the Green Gables and her red-hair woes.
Avantika knows both she and her brother are adopted and it usually doesn’t bother her except when it comes to her hair. That makes her wonder if she got it from her birth mother and therein is born a vague desire to see her.
One day she meets and befriends an old woman. Their friendship flowers over long conversations about Harry Potter and life in general. However, is their more to the old woman than what Avantika knows?
This is a warm happy read with a bit of a mystery thrown it. A perfect chapter book for middle graders.
While it touches upon serious topics like adoption and self-acceptance it keeps the story-telling light.
My favourite bits are the small everyday things that make it extremely identifiable and that’s what will endear it to young readers - the snacking on the train, the excitement of first day of school, the morning rush even the nasty cousins, Oh and the embarrassingly snoring dad, the mom’s nudge to quieten him - that’s my dad and mom and also the husband and I.
My only regret - I wish I’d waited for the paperback version.
What an absolutely enriching read. Read it with my nine year old girl. Simple yet with clear, lucid and impactful message. Growing up can come with several challenges but the idea should always be one of open communication between parents and children. I also loved how the writer doesn't make a fuss about certain things in life, which if I specify would become like a spoiler. Nothing is covered in layers and that is the best bit. The honesty and transparency that must be between parents and children. Certainly worth your time. And also the illustrations. They are splendid.
Lakshmi Iyer in her debut book, reveals a deep understanding of the world of children. About what they hold dear, and what they feel strongly about and the world viewed from their perspective.
The confidence and security of being adopted while straddling the many layers of challenges it brings in its wake, the presence of their grandmother on the father's side who fiercely loves them and pampers them ( Every child has or longs for such a figure in their life), the kind chitappa who tries to make up for his rude family, the journey by train, the affirmation for the first time from the outside world for her curly hair, an aspect often ridiculed or teased about within one's own family, Why is my hair curly is a delightful coming of age story, and self-acceptance of Avantika. While Avnish is a secondary character, looking up to his elder sister, expressing his solidarity with how they were treated by their cousins or being indignant about missing a treat... he manages to hold his own well.
The pace of the book is excellent, and forces one to read it at one go without putting the book down, and it says much about the skills of Ms.Lakshmi Iyer. The drawings are simply delightful and breathe life into the book.
The ambience of the train, descriptions of their home, their lifestyles, the classroom or the playground are all excellently detailed out with a few humourous instances to add flavour. One wishes a few more interactions with the parents, especially the father, or all of them together though, since they seem a rather interesting family.
Ms.Iyer has woven complex subjects of identity, independence, safety, acceptance and also responsibility in a young child rather seamlessly and brilliantly into the book. Also, what works rather beautifully is the way the adults treat the children with a great deal of respect, and have no qualms apologizing when wrong. There is no talking down to a child, which is rather refreshing. Avantika's protective streak towards her mother etc, reveal the detailed understanding that Ms.Iyer has in tuning into how young children think.
The nativity of the book, and its easy references to the daily lives of an Indian child in a metro city is refreshing.
I had a cultural conflict though in the descriptions of many of the foods and delicacies that are fondly passed on by Vincent's mother, the children's grandmother. Most of the items do not seem the standard, common fare found in a Tamil, Christian home but rather standard fare found in Tamil Brahmin Houses. Use of words like Bakshanam instead of Theeni or Palakaram etc, Vadagams, Maavadu as a favourite pickle etc are not common to a christian home at all. Also, the complete absence of any non-vegetarian fare amidst a lot of food descriptions at their home seem a bit odd unless their home revolves around Radha's dietary preferences. Even then, the likelihood of those impacting Vincent's family is a bit remote. The father welcoming Saraswathy Paati with a Ulla Vaango instead of a more likely Ulla Vaanga... are confusing. The aspect of the parents being from different religions and the mother Radha hence not being in touch with her mother or that tension is not felt much because of some of these maybe? It could be that the author drew from her own cultural background instead of weaving it around the lives of the characters she has created with respect to food.
A delightful read nevertheless, and one that will bring a huge, huge grin on your face, Why is my hair curly? is a delightful pick. Lakshmi Iyer scores easily in creating an easy to love and relate to characters and an extremely believable story in a difficult to put down book. Looking eagerly forward to her next works. Definitely a 5 star from my side!
Full disclosure: I read an ARC and am in the acknowledgements.
I loved this book. From the illustrations to Avantika’s train ride to the nuanced way Lakshmi deals with adoption and self-esteem, I loved it all. I read it in one sitting at a time when I have been unable to read much at all. That should tell you a lot.
We need more books like this in the US. Honest, unfiltered diverse kid lit that doesn’t pander to a white audience. Yet, the story remains intensely relatable even to that audience. The location may be foreign, but the experiences and emotions are not.
Ultimately, Why is My Hair Curly? is a story of belonging. I wish I had a book like this at Avantika’s age. It’s tough when you don’t look like everyone else, when you feel out of sync with the rest of your family or friends. I think it’s particularly powerful that Avantika starts out hating her hair but grows to love it by the end.
The stranger danger theme is a bit of a stumbling point for me. While we are all taught not to talk to strangers, most often it’s those closest to us, relatives and friends, who do the most harm.
I hope we see more of the family. Maybe Avinash next time.
What a beautiful book. I am not sure if one can call it a coming of age story but the transition that Avantika made with a stuttering speech on day 1 of school to a stunning extempore about how she had come to terms with her made it feel like one! I teared up a little when the paati revelation happened. Honestly, I didn't see that coming. I had a filmy twist on mind and that Saraswati paati would turn out to be her biological paati :-) but that's what was good about the book. Unlike every other Desi author book, this wasn't filmy. The conversations, the setting, the morning madness - everything was real. Avantika is so mature for her age. We have many things in common except that maturity - Diary writing, our hatred for brinjal, being bookworms (especially her love for ACK books!) Avni is still young but I really hope the author writes a book from his POV as well some day. I would love to read about his love for cricket and CSK. The book was also a trip down memory lane for me. The excitement around book days, when we got to meet friends after the summer break, buying new books, meeting our teachers for the next academic year, it all came flooding to me! If that wasn't enough, I simply loved the Tamil endearments - kannu, kannamma, chellam, pattamma ❤️ I haven't read a book with all of these words ever before! In short, I loved it. Go grab your copy!
Lakshmi has a way with words. This story discusses about very deep topics like diversity, adoption and all the angst of being a girl who is not fully a child and yet far away from being a young adult. There is so much to contemplate on and yet the light hearted tone and the mystery of the story captures a child’s interest right away. Loved the use of Indian words, loved the train rides, LOVED the braids and the Harry Potter references. Before I reveal the whole story, it is best to stop. The illustrations are beautiful too, but I love the pictures that Lakshmi painted with words in my head. Overall, this book is well worth the purchase. I know I intend to get the paperback when it comes out. This book is a great gift for summer reading...and a wonderful book for educators to use and discuss a variety of topics like color, adoption and so much.
Thanks again Lakshmi for such a beautiful children’s book. Bought it in Kindle and just finished reading it and now I will pass it on to my daughter. I always knew that you will be an amazing writer, and I am so happy to see your dreams come true. I can’t wait to read more from you.