WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

This issue of WOW Review focuses on books that offer images of young characters confronting challenges in a variety of life events. Many of the story contexts involve survival, such as Black Radishes, in which the young Gustave joins his family in the French Resistance, or Yellow Star, as Sylvia and her Polish family barely escape death at the hands of the German Nazis. Survival in the hands of an abductor is the focus of Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, a first-person narrative of Gemma, a young girl kidnapped and taken to the Australian outback. Survival, in the case of Akash, a young boy from India in Saraswati’s Way, involves escaping from his life as an indentured worker and struggling to achieve his dream of studying mathematics. There are many challenges to confront in schools, such as maintaining one’s identity among peers, as seen in Something for School, in which Yoon learns to accept her unique boyish looks. No and Me, a story that begins with a school project in a Parisian school, takes the reader into the world of homeless teens. Through Lou, a 13 year old school girl, and No, a homeless girl, readers realize the challenges each faces as they become friends.

Not uncommon among young people everywhere is the tension confronted when individuals are straddling two cultures. Karma, set in tumultuous 1984 India, shares the experiences of a teen girl from Canada who is returning to her family’s homeland of India. She must struggle for physical survival as well as that of her bi-cultural identity. In a more contemporary setting, Naming Maya focuses on the personal tension of a young girl traveling from her home in the United States to visit family in India for the summer. Her resistance to taking the trip and irritation at the lack of amenities in her grandfather’s house is met with developing insight and acceptance of her Indian culture.

Some of the challenges faced by characters involve their families and cultures. My Rows and Piles of Coins is about a generous young Tanzanian boy, Saruni, who saves his money to buy a bike so he can help his mother deliver goods to the market. Cattle Kids, a Year on the Western Ranges provides an authentic look at the American Cowboy through the lives of several children whose responsibilities are important to their families’ ranches. Buffalo Dreams shares the story of Native American children, Sarah and Joe, who make a pilgrimage to visit a baby white buffalo—a trip that calls for Sarah to face the mother bull to protect her young brother. My Abuelita shares a young boy’s perceptions of how he helps his Abuelita, especially as she prepares for her storytelling role.

From powerful stories of survival to the efforts of young children in supporting their families, a complexity of threads weave serendipitously together as well as into the lives of young readers across the books reviewed in this issue. A tapestry of resilience, ingenuity, and hope is created by and for young people around the globe.

2 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

  1. Hello,
    How I wish I had found this posting before I submitted my changes for the paperback version of Karma! As you can imagine it is not easy to write of Indian culture as a foreigner. All assurances to readers that I did enlist the help of three Indo-Canadian writers for assistance with the language (one writer of HIndu descent and two Sikh-Punjabi writers). Not only did they read for accuracy but also made many of the additions that you refer to as incorrect. Sigh. It is so difficult to get things right. Writing Karma was a very risky undertaking that I spent three years on. To explore both a culture and the dire political situation of 1984 as an outsider was fraught with peril but I was committed to telling this important story. My hope was to bring to light the relatively unknown massacre of the Sikhs to the general community as well as write about the difficulties of immigration, identity and adolescence. It was a work of passion that I am proud of. Many thanks for taking the time to read Karma and offer your thoughts. I learned much for your post. All my best, Cathy Ostlere

  2. Shri Ramakrishnan says:

    Hello Cathy,
    Thank you for your gracious response! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and was stunned at the meticulous descriptions of daily life in India, especially considering that your first visit to India was not exactly very pleasurable. India is complex and it is very challenging to view it as a single entity or a single theoretical construct. I admire and applaud your resolve to write a novel about my homeland despite the challenges of being an outsider. And I also applaud your thematic choice for the main plot – the riots following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are some of the least known and least discussed topics of Indian politics. I hope you will be writing another such powerful story set in India pretty soon! Warmest regards, Shri Ramakrishnan

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