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Book Review -The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life Of Sunita Sen

by Mitali Perkins
Reviewer: Manaswini Garimella


The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen is not an especially star-spangled story. Reading it as an Indian girl who has grown up in the United States, I hoped to find some similarities in the situation of the protagonist, Sunita, an Indian girl in eighth grade, and my own while I was in middle school. I was sorely disappointed. The book begins with Sunita’s fears about her life coming to an end because of her grandparents’ visit, and develops as a story about her coming to terms with what she believes other people’s perceptions will be about her grandparents. While she is Indian and enjoys many aspects of her culture, she is far too obsessed with external views about her to be able to enjoy it. At the same time, she is struggling to get a boy in her class to notice her, and feels torn between her identity and her desire to be appealing to him. The book also alternates between her life and a life in which she imagines herself to be Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, usually used to illustrate the difference in what she believes is what is wrong with her life, and how she wished it would be. The end of the story is sweet and happy, resolving itself completely, where she realizes that she can accept and enjoy her Indian heritage as well as be herself, Sunita, and her American identity.


I think that I may have enjoyed this book more if I were twelve or so, and actually at the age that Sunita is going through, but at the same time, I don’t think I developed the sort of hyper-self-consciousness that Sunita displays until I was about sixteen. While the issues that Sunita has are very real, the book isn’t able to explore them fully, and I felt myself wanting more. Although Sunita constantly feels that her life is too complicated, the book only really explores identity issues as they concern Sunita’s relationships with people her age. Perhaps the scope of this novel is only meant to cover this aspect, but I feel that such a book is likely to be read by many people, both South Asian and of other backgrounds, and to people who are not South Asian and might generalize the whole Indian American experience through one book, this would not present the whole picture. The book doesn’t really touch on the issues of conflicting value systems of Indian and American households, or the academic life of Sunita, which were both very important aspects of my life. But while I end up asking for more from this book, I feel that it is still a good read for eight to twelve-year old girls, perhaps to be commended in being one of the first of its kind. The happy ending did make me smile, and would give girls that age some hope that their own problems in this area can be as easily resolved.


Manaswini Garimella is a senior at the Lexington High School


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