Targeted Ages: Best for fourth grade (ages 9 and 10) and up
Synopsis: This hilarious, heartwarming middle grade Stonewall Honor Book features Rahul Kapoor, an Indian-American cisgender boy middle schooler who is determined to be the best at...something. He's just not sure yet what that something is.
With biggest allies BFF Chelsea and wheelchair user grandfather Bhai by his side, Rahul bravely ventures into the world desperate to fit in with his white cis male peers. But his attempts to make the football team go horribly awry, and his audition for a commercial results in a racist rejection. Rahul is also constantly stymied by anxiety, which manifests in self-doubt and obsessive compulsive checking. There's also a bully, Brent, who tries to make his life miserable whenever possible.
Rahul is one of two Indian kids at his school, and even though his home life is filled with nosy Aunties, listening to Bollywood hits, and plenty of delicious Indian cooking, the other Indian boy at school is surprised he knows what samosas are because he doesn't "seem very Indian."
Rahul eventually joins the Mathletics team and finds success, but still is uneasy and anxious. He wonders why he isn't thrilled when a girl asks him to the school dance, and waffles between liking a boy and wanting to be him. Eventually, Rahul finds more confidence and peace within his racial and ethnic identities and his sexuality.
Where the book succeeds: In this #OwnVoices text, author Maulik Pancholy brilliantly captures Rahul in all his awkward glory. As you read, you will cheer for Rahul, cringe alongside him, and jump out of your seat to defend him.
The care and creativity Pancholy executes when crafting the characters is clearly evident, especially in exchanges between Rahul and his best friend Chelsea and his grandfather, Bhai.
Rahul also bucks plenty of traditional gender roles. When he auditions for the commercial, Chelsea applies white face powder, which goes horribly wrong. Months later, the two find themselves in the boys' bathroom again as Rahul applies lip gloss to Chelsea. Chelsea remarks, "Do you think it's strange that we always end up in boys' bathrooms doing each other's makeup?" Rahul responds with a smile, "Absolutely not. Being different is what makes us fun, remember?"
Content warning: Rahul's character experiences racism (people mock Indian accents, mispronounce his name, and tell him he doesn't belong and to "go back to where [he] came from." He also experiences homophobia, as his bully consistently mocks him and accuses him of liking a fellow boy.