This is a semi-autobiographical novel about the author's childhood, born to Indian parents and growing up in a small town outside Wolverhampton. Narrator and protagonist Meena is a little girl who has trouble telling the truth. She hero-worships Anita, top hen in the farmyard of local girls; Meena wants to be part of Anita's gang. Given the background of endless Aunties and Uncles (mostly unrelated fellow Indian immigrants), the poor working people of the ex-mining town, and the whiplash of racism, Meena's negotiation of the culture clash was never going to be easy.
Ben Elton describes it as a cross between Tom Sawyer and Cider with Rosie but for my money the biggest influence is To Kill a Mockingbird, another novel about racism, in which the feisty young heroine is eventually rescued by the demonised and mysterious stranger in the Big House.
The big turning point is the village fete which occurs at the 60% mark. This is the point when the village bad boy, hero-worshipped by the young Meena, reveals himself as a racist and when Nanima (her mother's mother) arrives like a magical Mary Poppins.
Some of the great moments:
- "I'm really not a liar, I just learned very early on that those of us deprived of history sometimes need to turn to mythology to feel complete, to belong."
- Following an exposure to Midlands dialect: "Just because the English can't speak English themselves, does not mean you have to talk like an urchin. You take the best from their culture, not the worst. You'll be swearing and urinating in telephone boxes next." (C 3)
- "the tinnitus of conscience forever buzzing in my ears." (C 3)
- "The sun was just beginning its slow, lazy descent and I could see the glittering sliver of a fingernail moon hanging over the rooftops." (C 3)
- "We all have obligations, no one is born on their own." (C 3)
- "This was what love meant, both people thinking they were the lucky one." (C 4)
- "that awful organ music, like a donkey in pain." (C 5)
- "false modesty was an expected response to any social request ... 'No' alweays meant 'Yes, I want to really but you will have to ask me at least five times before I can give in graciously and not look like a big fat show-off." (C 5)
- "We both agreed there was no point putting so much energy into posturing and looking mean if you didn't have some others around to applaud or take the blame when things turned nasty." (C 6)
- "Living in the grey area between all categories felt increasingly like home." (C 6)
- "We were discussing Othello and Mr Williams had asked where the Moors came from, and I had put up my hand and answered confidently, 'Yorkshire, sir'!"(C 8)
- "Sherrie's dad was so sinewy he had muscles in his earlobes." (C 8)
- "I learned that darkness is not one colour, that there are shades upon shades within black - midnight-blue black on the horizon, pearly opaque black encircling the moon, the heavy wet green-black of a stormy night sky." (C 13)
- "The alley was empty and she had somehow walked the length of it without the trace of an echo." (C 13)
- "The place in which I belonged was wherever I stood and there was nothing stopping me simply moving forward and claiming each resting place as my home." (C 13)
A good story with some genuine laugh out loud moments. Febraury 2020; 328 pages