Born Confused (2002), by Tanuja Desai Hidier

E940_SCH_BornConfused_0.tifAt first I was unimpressed.  The author seems unable to maintain an authentic teen voice, fluctuating between frankly unbelievable slang (“frocking” instead of “fucking; “Dear Claude” instead of “Dear God”) and a mature, fluid, and poetic narrative, purportedly from the mind of the one central protagonist, Dimple Lala.  (Why do South Asian authors call their protagonists Dimple so readily? There are thousands of beautiful South Asian names that are not a silly word in English…)

Once I got past the questionable narrative voice, I began to like the character and her life. Granted, her best friend Gwyn is an appalling creature, selfish and self-centred, but Dimple’s responses to her friends, family, and life are honest and explored with sensitivity.  Dimple learns a significant amount about herself and her culture through well-structured plot machinations, and the characters she meets are as carefully and fully created as she is.  I do ask, though, if it is necessary in the narrative of adolescent development always to encounter and learn from lesbians, gays, and in this case an attractive and wise transvestite… It seems that this level of engagement with this variety of alternative lifestyle within the New York Desi scene might be a bit of a stretch of authenticity, as is a grade 11 girl having her photos chosen for a complete spread in a flash (literally Flash!) New York magazine, without her knowledge… Plot manipulation aside, I think the characterizations in Born Confused redeem the text, and make it worth recommending.

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