How much should you sacrifice for your family? How do you show your loyalty and love without forfeiting your own future? These are the questions faced by teens in two great books I recently read, and the fact that they were set in India and Pakistan had the added bonus of opening a window into other cultures.
In Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins, 16-year-old Asha’s life changes when her father loses his job and has to leave India to find work in America. Asha must move with her mother and sister into her uncle’s home in Calcutta, where a very traditional lifestyle is observed. She is not allowed to leave the house or go to school, so she takes refuge on the roof, where she pours her secrets into her diary – her dream to become a psychologist, her fear that her sister will be married off, and her clandestine friendship with Jay, the boy next door. When a family tragedy strikes, Asha makes a decision that changes her destiny as well as her entire family’s. The author weaves a moving portrait of a teenager’s struggle to chart her own course while remaining loyal to her family. The novel is set in the 1975, during Indira Ghandi’s regime, and an author’s note explains the tempestuous times as well as changes that have since occurred in India.
The second book, Beneath My Mother’s Feet, was written by a local author, Amjed Qamar, of Dublin, Ohio. The story takes place in contemporary Pakistan, and 14-year-old Nazia shares some of the same struggles as Asha. She, too, must leave school and her home after her father loses his job. Unlike Asha, Nazia has no extended family to help, so she and her mother go to work as live-in maids. Nazia hopes to escape this lowly work, as her marriage has been arranged, but that prospect is dashed when her dowry is stolen. Readers will learn a lot about life in Pakistan by following Nazia’s journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, the novel is ultimately uplifting because Nadia learns to rely on her own ingenuity and inner strength and draws on the love and sacrifices her mother has made.