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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Priyanka is teased by school (where she wants to just go by "Pri," which is easier and less easy to make fun of), her favorite uncle has had a new baby which makes her feel neglected, and her mother won't tell her anything about India, her father, or why she emigrated to America. Then, in an old suitcase in a closet, Pri finds a beautiful pashmina, which, when Pri wears it, seems to take her to India, where a peacock and an elephant show her around to all of the amazing and wondrous sights. Pri wins $500 in a comics contest and, frustrated by her mother's reluctance to tell her anything about herself, she insists upon going to India. At first her mother says no, but that same day Pri's aunt calls, and the two sister who haven't spoken in the 16 years since Pri's mother left, agree that Pri can go and stay with her aunt.

When Pri gets to India, she discovers the pashmina stops working for her. Also, India isn't quite as gorgeous and amazing as the images she'd seen--the elephant and peacock had left out the dirt, the poverty, and the lower classes. But Pri's aunt, who teaches school to the lowest caste of children, is game to show Pri the real India. They end up going on a quest to find the maker of the pashmina. Along the way, Pri learns a lot about herself. And she gains a real respect for her heritage, shown most simply when she says, upon her return, that she wants to go by Priyanka again.

The magic of the pashmina is an interesting vehicle to hang the story on, as it both incites Priyanka's real interest in India, and yet gives her a sanitized version of it, and it also seems to show other people their future—is that just a future, or is it the future? The illustrations are pretty much just two-tone except for the ones when the pashmina's magic is in full force. It has the effect of going to Oz and switching from black and white to color, but it also in a way felt like it diminished the everyday, real life of Pri and her family. I liked what the artist was going for there, but I wish somehow the everyday life had ended up more vibrant. That said, it's a wonderful and touching coming-of-age story, not just for the children of immigrants, although that's certainly something nearly everyone can identify with if you go back far enough (certainly in this country), but also just for the appreciation of different cultures and for our ancestors, no matter who we or they might be.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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