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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!
Quite enjoyed reading this refreshing tale , set in period Tam brahm context ..with just the right quantum of characters keeping the young audience very well in mind. Metaphorically capturing the angst of a ten year old in her search for and confusion about her own adopted identity .
Avantika is a considerate sensitive child , and her age and stage add to her being impressionable , which as a child she is . All what she hears from around her – friends who are simple kids who don't mince words …unkind words and innuendos from her cousins and kin – augment her self doubt. Affection she feels she is entitled to as a child , is not what she receives as an adopted child in a conservative Tamil Brahmin family with just a few sensible folks that constitute mostly just her parents and paternal grandparents .
The aspect about herself most exaggerated in her childly consciousness of her own self, is her curly hair that seems to have a mind of its own . Her discomfiture about the curly tresses , is beautifully depicted by the author in being representative really of her own insecurities as one of the adopted siblings to Radha and Vincent – her parents themselves impacted in parts by isolation from atleast Radha’s mother when Radha married someone of her own choice .
Quite nicely balanced in navigating a serious theme riding on the emotions of an impacted adolescent – well a tiny point of detraction could be that at times Avantika’s actions and thought responses to situations appear to be more matured than her age ( but I may stand corrected on this point as children more often than not surprise you with their preciosity , I discover it myself pleasantly with my teenaged and adolescent daughters respectively , all the time). The choice of curly hair as the artefact for story telling is so brilliant that it melds seamlessly into the fabric of growing up and grooming and concomitant angsts.
The two strongest characters in the book are Avantika and Saraswathy, her grand mother – each having been caricatured excellently through some superlative writing , with just enough nuances palatable for a young audience . I just felt the aspect of poignance could have been leveraged one level more for Avantika – there was maybe, an opportunity connecting to the emotional dilemmas from the less than perfect worlds for adopted tiny existences .
The detailing of the south Indian lifestyle has been lovely – well , could it have been a tiny dollop more keeping the target age group ; especially the junior diaspora who may have not had the first hand conversance with idyllic life in a sleepy town in India would have relished the vicarious journey sweetly .
Those are very minor points . All in all , a superb debut effort deftly dealing with a themes highly relevant in contemporary times , and delivering it effortlessly to the target audience . Kudos to Lakshmi Iyer.
Indeed a very interesting reading. Looking into children's emotions and trials through their eyes has a different dimension altogether. For adults or parents who read the book - there are parenting tips too. Aventika missing her biological mother at times due to the unmanageable curly hair portraited very well n brings tears in eyes. Finding Paati, and then getting connected to the family resonates the deep rooted affection n love with grand parents n grand children.... Excellent pictures demonstrate few scenes...
Very very nice book . Simple language and easy to understand. Amazing work by the author. We cannot say this is her first book. Highly recommended. I am sure children will enjoy reading the book. Many Congratulations to her and wishing her to lots more to come. 👏👏👏👏