I decided to review the #COYER book club reads together in one post. These are our June 2021 picks – Diversity month. Both books actually had a politics element to them, but besides the diversity that’s pretty much all they had in common.Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Narrator: Soneela Nankani
Series: The Rajes #1
Published by HarperAudio on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, retelling, Romance
Length: 15 hours 8 minutes
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco—a compelling, heartwarming romance between two strangers from completely different worlds, and a poignant exploration of cultural assimilation, identity, and the meaning of the word home.
Only in a family like the Rajes could San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon be considered the black sheep. Dr. Trisha Raje has developed groundbreaking technology and won the respect of her peers and the life-long gratitude of her patients. Still, her large, close-knit family—descended from old Indian nobility—has certain rules to uphold. Trusting outsiders is frowned upon. Disloyalty of any kind is unacceptable. Trisha never intended to jeopardize her brother’s political aspirations, yet her long-ago actions inadvertently did just that. At last she has a chance to turn that around.
Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before—people who judge his background and find it lacking, who put pedigree above character. He may need the lucrative, career-making job the Rajes offer, but he has little time for Trisha, especially when he learns that she’s the arrogant surgeon who wants to perform an untested procedure on his sister, Emma.
As the two continually clash, their assumptions shatter like spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. Drawn to DJ’s steadiness, humor, and passion—as well as his extraordinary food—Trisha begins to reexamine her view of the world, while challenging his beliefs about the nature of family. But there’s a past to be reckoned with before they can hope to savor a future bursting with delicious possibility.
I have read so many Pride and Prejudice (P&P) retellings, spin offs, and the like over the years because it is my ALL TIME favorite book and I have a slight addiction. And I’ve read books that pretty much replicate the story to the T and leave me feeling something was missing. Then I pick up this book, which has really made a HUGE number of changes from the story and yet, I walk away with almost the EXACT same feeling of the original. My heart was warmed, I cried, and got giddy at pretty much the same corresponding moments as in P&P.
It took me a bit to appreciate the gem I was reading though, because of all the changes. In fact, I think you have to know the original story SUPER well to see the overlap. I think the most significant change is that Darcy (DJ), although named for the P&P hero is actually in the role of the heroine Elizabeth Bennett, for the most part. Meanwhile, Dr. Trisha Raje takes on the role of the original’s hero – Darcy. I recognized that difference pretty quickly and was fine with it. But then the difference became more and more striking. The families are quite different in structure and relationships, plenty of characters are completely missing (and plenty others are added). And of course it’s been put in a modern setting, not to mention the racial differences (which are actually a brilliant part of this book IMO). So for a little bit, I got caught up in the differences and wondered how the author was going to pull off some of my favorite moments. Would she have to bypass them completely because of the liberties she had taken? I should have trusted her.
I think it was right about the time we are introduced to Julia Wickham that I realized I was hooked, regardless of the changes. At that point I realized that Sonali Dev had captured the essence of Mr. Darcy (Trisha) and Lizzy (DJ) perfectly. In fact, I felt like it was TREAT to be able to experience these events from the POV from Mr. Darcy/Trisha. The seemingly unforgivable hubris that melts away as you see Mr. Darcy/Trisha in a new light, you get to understand from the beginning because of being in Trisha’s mind. And yet, we still also get to see why Lizzy/DJ saw it as so awful, because we’re also getting DJ’s point of view. Some of my favorite moments from the original story – the awful proposal, the saving of the family from Wickham, the visit of Lady Catherine De Burg, the engagement walk – found a new modern translation in this book. And despite being different, they left me with very similar feelings. But, as a bonus, because of getting the story from Trisha (aka Mr. Darcy)’s perspective, I was able to experience some new feelings as well.
As I mentioned, one of the brilliant things this book did was highlight a diverse racial perspective – the Raje family are Indian immigrants, DJ and his sister are mixed Indian and Rwandan immigrants. They’re experiences are very different – the Raje family are wealthy and privileged, DJ and his sister have experienced poverty and homelessness. Through these varied lens racial inequality as well as wealth disparity in America added a surprising and wonderful depth to my beloved story. It’s both an undercurrent and front a center, depending on the moment of the book. There’s also some unexpected side stories that hit me in the emotional sweet spot that I don’t want to spoil, but again, added depth.
I’m really glad I chose to listen, not just because this is a long book and I’m a slow reader (but fast listener) but also because Soneela Nankani’s narration was fantastic. I’m pretty sure I would have utterly failed at bringing the full depth of diversity to life in my head the way she did with her voices and for that, I am especially grateful. This was my first time listening to her narration, but I hope to listen to more from her.
Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli, Aisha Saeed
Narrator: Tiya Sircar, Michael Crouch
Published by HarperAudio on February 4, 2020
Length: 10 hours 57 minutes
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state Senate candidate — as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone), Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya. Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing — with some awkward dude she hardly knows — is beyond her. Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer — and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural romance of the century is another thing entirely.
This was so good! I loved the characters and the themes were incredibly relevant. I felt like the author did a great job of showing diversity in several forms (race, religion, sexuality). I also really enjoyed the teenage perspective on growing up diverse in an America that is very divided about diversity and rights right now.
Maya is a Muslim teenager – which brings in two diverse narratives. She’s racially brown skinned and Muslim, two identities that have endured quite a lot of discrimination, especially in post 2016 America (which is a very specific frame of reference for this book, which comments explicitly on the 2016 election and how it changed things for discrimination in this country without naming candidates outright). I felt like the author did a fair job of presenting both identities as equally part of who Maya was, which I appreciated. Jamie is a Jewish teenager, who because of his white skin has escaped some of the discrimination Maya experiences, but isn’t wholly spared. He also has gay best friends and another character comes out at one point. The sexual diversity is more of a nod than a focal point in the book, but it’s not to be overlooked.
The diversity is fitting for this book, since Maya and Jamie are bonding while working on a campaign in a red district trying to flip a seat in a special election. As someone who has worked on campaigns (in red districts, supporting a blue candidate) I also appreciated the emotions they go through – the frustration, the excitement, the feeling of making a difference, and the disappointment. It was just a very relevant book for our current political moment and I would love to see this book finding its way into high school English class’s curriculum. It shows the importance of being politically educated and involved and how the small elections are just as – if not more – important than the national ones. I think it’s highly appropriate for a group of teens who are about to reach voting age.
Also worth noting – this isn’t just a political statement book. It’s a book about families, growing up, friendships (and how they change as we grow), and first love. The story – even without the politics – is a beautiful one.
I own this book in both print and audio, but I ended up listening to it and I’m really glad I did. The narration by Tiya Sircar and Michael Crouch brought the characters to life beautifully and they complimented each other well.
Berls is reviewing June's #COYER book club reads. Have you read these diversity picks? Click To Tweet