Tara Feinstein is getting ready for her bat mitzvah, and she has a lot of questions about religion and belief systems and where she fits into the world as a girl who is both Indian and Jewish. She’s busy studying her Torah portion, but she’s also trying to figure out what’s happening between her and her best friend, Ben, and she’s giving serious side-eye to her other best friend Rebecca, who’s been hanging out a lot with the snooty Sheila Rosenberg. Can she balance all of this, pull off the bat mitzvah, and not disappoint either parent while also questioning her faith?
There’s a lot happening in Freeman’s novel about heritage and identity, but she manages to hold onto her narrative with a firm hand. It never spins out of control, and Freeman balances Tara’s many questions with a good dose of humor. Tara’s unwillingness to admit that she and her friends are changing feels authentic. There’s some nice growth here, but it’s never overly-didactic.
What did trip up this reader was how young and naive Tara seemed for a kid growing up smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan. While it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for a kid in that metropolis to be a bit sheltered, this naivety seemed to seep into the personalities of all her friends as well. That an a stereotypical Jewish grandmother were the only notes that sounded a bit off in this otherwise very enjoyable novel.
This one definitely has a place on library shelves. A great novel for kids struggling with their beliefs or just looking for a great story about struggling to fit in, this one should have a good amount of crossover appeal. Recommended.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman. Amulet Books: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.